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
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."