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King keeps country guessing

King keeps country guessing

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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,"

he said.

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.

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