King Norodom Sihanouk's North Korean bodyguards show some anxiety as their royal charge greets members of the press October 9 on his arrival at Pochentong airport.
ON his return to Cambodia on October 9 King Norodom Sihanouk neither confirmed nor
denied recent media reports that he was considering abdicating. Such a move could
produce a constitutional crisis, and embarrass Prime Minister Hun Sen.
"Yes, I have not decided anything, there is no problem," said the King,
when journalists asked whether his threat to abdicate was true.
One foreign diplomat said it was likely that pressure from China, where the King
has been receiving medical treatment for the past three months, had played a part.
The King, who is also the country's head of state, reportedly threatened in early
September to abdicate some time after his birthday at the end of October. That meant
he could have stepped down during the annual summit of ASEAN leaders, which for the
first time will be held in Phnom Penh in early November.
King Sihanouk also played down reports of a rift between himself and Hun Sen, who
was one of around 100 dignitaries who greeted him on his arrival.
Earlier this year King Sihanouk made it known that he was unhappy that the law regulating
the Throne Council, which is controlled by Hun Sen and will choose his successor,
has not yet been tabled.
"No, I have no problem," the King told the press. "I have come back
in order to serve the nation and the Cambodian people. We have good unity - there
are no problems between the National Assembly, the Senate, the government, and all
children [of Cambodia], soldiers or civilians.
"[The King] respects all citizens of Cambodia," he said. "But if there
is something [to announce about the abdication] I will inform. I am not hiding anything,
but this time there is nothing [to announce]. I will still serve the children, as
you have served your father."
The foreign diplomat, who spoke on condition of anonymity, told the Post that it
appeared that China had placed enough pressure on the King to persuade him to stay
on the throne.
He said King Sihanouk, Queen Norodom Monineath and the royal entourage met the Chinese
prime minister for dinner on October 8.
"During that meeting the Chinese PM informed the King that China will assist
in any way for Cambodia to organize the ASEAN summit," he said. "I think
that when the King leaked his abdication letter to someone visiting him in Beijing,
he was sending a warning to Hun Sen directly and to China indirectly to do something
about the succession [issue]."
The diplomat suggested that the threat involved resigning before the ASEAN summit
if the Throne Council issue was not decided.
"[That would cause] quite a bang and probably the cancellation of the visits
of some heads of state who are supposed to come to Phnom Penh," he said.
He added that the Chinese view was that such a move would be politically embarrassing
as their leader will attend the summit. The King reportedly responded saying he and
the Cambodian people were "very much looking forward to" the premier's
visit. The diplomat felt that statement had likely put an end to any chance of his
abdicating before the summit.
"The influence of China on Cambodian affairs is very strong, and when it comes
to the issue of the succession to the throne China follows Hun Sen 100 percent,"
The King's threat to abdicate followed a royal message on August 11 in which he wrote
that Cambodia had deteriorated to the status of a beggar nation in the ten years
to 2000, and was too dependent on foreign aid.