Publisher and Editor-in-Chief Michael Hayes met Prince Norodom Ranariddh on April 2 at his hotel during his five-day return to Cambodia after nine months in self-imposed exile. In the following edited transcript of the interview, the ousted first premier speaks of the past, present and future of his battered Funcinpec party.
Post: You've been in the Kingdom four days now. What happens from here, where do you go?
Ranariddh: I am quite surprised to notice that the basic structure of Funcinpec is not only still alive but still very strong, if not healthy. I met with the people, with cadres yesterday, and it appears that the structures we put in place three years ago, in spite of the events, are still alive, sometime in the underground manner.
They are quite confident to be able to re-build to strengthen Fun-cinpec. Finally what I have to do is about its leadership. And what I am going to do is to strengthen Fun-cinpec... One thing that worries me is my ability to travel around to campaign, not just in the districts, but to the [provincial capitals] as well.
Post: What happens now with establishing dialogue with the CPP and Hun Sen on issues of importance? What are the next steps?
Ranariddh: I have not succeeded to see Samdech Hun Sen. He said that he is in mourning and he told [UN representative Lakhan] Mehrohtra that he would see me in early May.
But still I am trying now to establish a common contact with the CPP... I have asked Samdech Hun Sen, through some ambassadors, that it would be very useful if he could designate a contact person through whom we could talk. I [am] always convinced that - like it or not - you have to work and cooperate with the CPP from now to the elections.
And as far as the situation after the elections is concerned, it depends on the result. I think that we cannot avoid cooperating with the CPP... if not forming any coalition government with the CPP.
Post: If you are able to campaign and Funcinpec wins, what is there to prevent a repeat of 1993?
Ranariddh: According to our constitution there will be one prime minister [after the 1998 election].
The government must be formed through two-thirds majority and we would not avoid the possibility from forming a coalition government, even with the CPP. And let's say that if the loser would not accept the result... I think that for Cambodia it would mean instability, or even worse than that. I don't want to say anything more than 'political instability'.
In this scenario the world community - which reacted quite well, but not very strong, after the July coup - would react much stronger if the result is viewed by the world community as free and fair... this is only my one hope.
But Samdech Hun Sen, if I understand him well, [has] already said that he will respect all kinds of [outcomes]... he will accept defeat if there is any defeat for his party.
Post: Some of your party members left Funcinpec after July. What are your relationships now with, for example, Ung Huot, You Hokry, Toan Chay, Pou Sothirak?
Ranariddh: You Hockry is with me. For the rest, I don't have for the time being any relation with them. I don't believe that either Ung Huot or Loy Sim Chheang would come back to Funcinpec.
But I have already received some information telling me that some of members, in particular those in Ung Huot's party, are willing [to reintegrate] if I would like to welcome them. They told me that they accepted to be with Ung Huot because they did not believe that I would be able to come back and run for election.
Even if they don't come back to Funcinpec, the fact is that we used to be together since the resistance against the Vietnamese. The minimum, as a gentlemen's agreement, that we should have is not to criticize each other during the electoral campaign. As far as forming any coalition with them it would depend on the results of the election itself.
Post: Among certain diplomats in Phnom Penh there is a school of thought that your generals and yourself were building up forces and may have provoked a military confrontation before July under the advice of Nhek Bun Chhay, Khan Savoeun, Serey Kosal. Were you deliberately expanding your military forces in Phnom Penh before July events?
Ranariddh: Those diplomats forget that before the coup I proposed in writing to Samdech Hun Sen to reduce our bodyguard forces to two companies and give tanks and weapons back to the RCAF. But Samdech Hun Sen instead of accepting my proposal, he unilaterally - I have this document - increased his forces to 1,500. I did not know who built up his forces and who is not, but I have evidence.
Everybody knew that Samdech Hun Sen brought forces from [General] Keo Pong, from Kampong Speu, from Kampong Cham, from Takeo, from everywhere. I met even with the [former] Khmer Rouge from Keo Pong at the golf course. They told me that they have been brought here in order to attack Funcinpec in Phnom Penh.
One day I asked the same question to [CPP] generals Tea Banh and Pol Saroeun who played golf with me. Pol Saroeun told me those forces had been brought there in order to prevent any bandits from threatening the foreign golfers. [laughter]
I proposed before the coup - officially - to set up a bipartisan committee from Funcinpec and the CPP to investigate every place... that Samdech Hun Sen thought I could hide any Khmer Rouge forces. My proposal was turned down. I said that the committee could even come and investigate my residence. It was turned down. I did not bring anyone, sir. Not anyone, any force, any arms, except those that I have been accused of smuggling.
During [July] 5 and 6, my forces did not have any particular sign. The others, they had either red [strips of cloth on their uniforms], red and blue, white, etc. It means that they were preparing. I did not prepare anything.
Post: The King has been somewhat pessimistic about your prospects, saying Hun Sen has the power and will retain it. What are your views on His Majesty's pronouncements?
Ranariddh: If we are observing how strong Samdech Hun Sen is in terms of controlling the armies, the police and the government, everywhere in the country, we do not have any choice else but to share His Majesty's views.
But as democrats, as Cambodian people and as politicians, we do not have any other choice but to do our best along with other parties, along with the world community, countries and international organizations to force destiny and to do our best in order to allow the people, through free and fair elections, to say what they want and to select their leadership.
Observing the present situation, I have to share His Majesty's views. But I and all those other [opposition] political parties do not have any choice but to do what we are doing.