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King muzzles the 'Smile of the month'

King muzzles the 'Smile of the month'

IN a possible bid to stave off a clamp-down on his royal bulletin, King Norodom Sihanouk

has muzzled a satirical and enigmatic columnist who some say is the alter ego to

the monarch's public persona.

Ruom Ritt, an alleged target of death threats and author of the "Smile of the

Month" column that appears periodically in the Royal Cabinet's Monthly Documentation

Bulletin (BMD), has officially been censored by Sihanouk.

"In what concerns Mr Ruom Ritt, I have asked him to cease writing for the BMD,

and this [is to take effect today] from 4 May 1997," the King said in an interview

in Beijing with the team which compiles BMD.

In a May 4 communiqué from the Chinese capital, BMD compilers alleged that

Ritt "has received death threats (expressed in letters sent to the Royal Cabinet,

marked 'please forward to the addressee')."

In their interview with the King the compilers insinuate that Khmer expatriates living

in France have blamed him for inciting Ritt to "go too far" in his zealously

anti-CPP BMD articles. The compilers even suggest that one of Cambodia's most wealthy,

influential, and controversial businessmen - who is often associated with Second

Prime Minister Hun Sen - has become involved in a conspiracy to kill Sihanouk.

"Sire, [Khmers of France] hold you responsible for the articles of Mr. Ruom

Ritt... and are menacing to have you assassinated by killers hired by Mr. Theng Boon

Ma," the compilers prefaced a question to the King. "They want your BMD

to renounce its independent spirit, to shut-up and even disappear."

The day after the Sihanouk interview, at a speech in Kompong Speu First Prime Minister

Prince Norodom Ranariddh, who allegedly obtained copies of the menacing letters,

brought-up the Boon Ma matter.

"No, I am not using this opportunity to talk about Mr Theng Boon Ma," Ranariddh

said, according to an unofficial translation from Khmer. "But the statements

have named him clearly and say that Mr Theng Boon Ma has money and will assassinate

His Majesty the King."

At Post press time, copies of the so-called death threats were not made available.

Aides to the King and the Prince claimed they had never laid eyes on any such menacing

letters.

"The letters reached the King directly in Beijing from France," a Royal

Cabinet secretary told the Post.

Boon Ma, the president of the Cambodian Chamber of Commerce who is widely regarded

as the king-maker of Cambodian politics - if not the alleged godfather of the local

narco-trade - could not be reached for comment.

Sihanouk's rambling reply to the BMD question, nevertheless, makes no mention of

Boon Ma, nor does it imply that there were any death threats made against himself

or Ritt.

"Today, (we are in May 1997), I am ready to do what the strongmen will ask me

to do, in what concerns the BMD," the King concludes his answer. "If they

want to... formally and officially suspend sine die the functioning of BMD, I will

accept to obey them."

As for Ritt, he is something of a mystery. It is widely held that his name is a pseudonym.

It is believed that the constitutional monarch, who "reigns but does not rule",

uses "Ruom Ritt" as foil for his anti-Hun Sen, anti-Khmer Rouge, and anti-Lon

Nol sentiments.

During the politically-charged month of April, "Ritt" was at his sardonic

best, launching missiles at the enemy from an elevated position somewhere in the

French Pyrenees.

In his dispatches, for instance, he commonly uses "Great Leader" as a jibe

at Hun Sen; and in a snipe at Boon Ma, Ritt talks about the "power of the 'Okhnas'

[a Royal title given to businesspeople], 'Neak Okhna', super-rich mafias who finance

handsomely certain strong-men and certain big political parties...."

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