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
"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
"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
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
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...."