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King departs without the red carpet

King departs without the red carpet

K ING Norodom Sihanouk's Nov 9 pledge to "stay out of politics" came as

a result of what he sees as a concerted campaign against him by the Cambodian People's

Party, according to diplomatic sources.

His pledge came after an alleged invitation by Second Prime Minister Hun Sen to a

breakaway Khmer Rouge commander that the two join forces against the monarchy, and

a concerted campaign against him by CPP-aligned newspapers.

Diplomatic sources report the existence of a "confidential" Funcinpec report

in which it is alleged Hun Sen held a recent "secret" meeting in Phnom

Penh with Ee Chhean, the commander of breakaway KR division 415 based at Pailin.

The report, compiled after Ee Chhean reported the meeting to senior Funcinpec officials,

alleges Hun Sen said to Chhean that, as they were both ex-KR, they should work together

to "destroy the Monarchy".

The allegations compound the murky games of second-guessing and secret meetings riddling

Cambodian politics at present.

The King's disappearance from the scene to China for medical reasons, and the ever-widening

gap between Hun Sen and Funcinpec leader Prince Norodom Ranariddh, is a stew that

hardly needs the seasoning of "which way will Ee Chhean and his cohorts jump?"

"I believe Chhean and [Malai leader] Sok Pheap know each other well..."

said one Phnom Penh MP. "They're unhappy with Hun Sen but don't know what to

do about it."

Sources say the situation between the two Prime Ministers - which have only ever

been at best cosmetically cordial - is as wide as it has been since the elections.

"What major decision can they do together now? What have they done lately?"

said one source.

The King was described by Palace sources as leaving considering himself "unvalued".

He is alleged to have told his son Ranariddh at a private Palace audience to conduct

an opinion poll, and if it happened that the population was indeed angry at his proposed

general amnesty - one shot down particularly by CPP - then he "would give up

the throne to the students" and retire to a French pagoda.

"But Hun Sen knows he can pin down the Monarchy anytime by producing evidence

of [Funcinpec] corruption," said the Palace source. "And he has plenty

of evidence, whenever he wants..."

Meanwhile, recent editions of several "CPP" newspapers have mounted what

some observers say is virtually an attack on the Monarchy.

The Nov 1 issue of Chakraval criticized the King for neglecting his compatriots by

missing important ceremonies and concluded that he lacked leadership qualities, was

not neutral and lusted for political power.

The Nov 5 issue of Sathearnak Rath urged Cambodians to abandon their "unthinking"

loyalty to the throne and urged them instead to follow politicians with the interests

of the people at heart.

Observers say the attack is consistent with Hun Sen's disdain for the Monarchy.

"Hun Sen fears the King's popularity with the people and is convinced he will

abdicate the throne and lead a political party before the next election," said

one.

Diplomatic sources said the King appeared "surly" and that usual protocol

was abandoned before he departed Phnom Penh Nov 10 for China. Ordering that the red

carpet laid for him be pulled up, the King preferred to walk across the bare tarmac

to his plane.

His statement, issued the day before he left, read: "I, Norodom Sihanouk, have

the honor to inform all compatriots inside and outside Cambodia that I, until my

death, will certainly never enter the political arena, never enter the elections,

never assist any political party or group, because I am the father of every Cambodian

and a genuinely neutral person."

Analysts said his words were intended to reassure Hun Sen, who earlier this year

alluded to an alleged Royalist plot against him.

Funcinpec leader Prince Norodom Ranariddh told reporters at the airport that Sihanouk's

statement was intended "to calm somebody down, and you know who [that] is...

he will be a real constitutional King."

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