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A last gasp intervention by King Sihanouk

A last gasp intervention by King Sihanouk

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THIS WEEK IN HISTORY

Vol. 7, No. 23

October 2-15, 1998

KING Norodom Sihanouk is expected to arrive in Phnom Penh on Monday, October 5, following the breakdown of the September 29 tripartite talks on the formation of a coalition government.

The Chinese embassy confirmed Sihanouk's planned trip to Beijing had been cancelled. "Everything has been arranged," said one anonymous Palace source. "He will arrive at 10:30am Monday."

Opposition delegates at the talks maintained their parties' call to revisit the running of July's election. They refused to acknowledge the sole CPP agenda, which was to form a coalition.

The opening of parliament has now been delayed, but Sihanouk is expected to persuade Funcinpec dean Ieng Kieth to open the first session and the CPP seems to be counting on a bloc of Funcinpec MPs falling in behind the King, rather than Prince Norodom Ranariddh, one diplomat said.

This assumes, however, that Sihanouk has a genuine desire to see Funcinpec in a coalition subservient to Hun Sen, one that many within the royalist party believe could be the end of them.

"On the Friday [September 25] before [Ranariddh] left for Thailand, he told Rainsy there would be no deal with Hun Sen," said one informed source.

The other whisper campaign around Phnom Penh is how successful the CPP has been in buying or threatening opposition MPs to split from their parties. The CPP only needs 18 NA seats to secure a two-thirds majoirty in parliament and form a government alone.

One diplomat said: "I think the King knows his responsibility... If he left for Beijing the country wouldn't even have a head of state, let alone a government."

"If Ranariddh stays in Bangkok, then Funcinpec are staying firm. If he comes back that's a bad sign for them. It means he has to come back to prevent a split," said another source.

If the CPP cannot strike a coalition deal, Hun Sen said the party would amend the Constitution to run the country alone or would continue governing with Ung Huot.

"I can imagine a scenario of Funcinpec splitting ... Ieng Kieth and others could find that perfectly justifiable," said one analyst. "Ieng Kieth could not refuse the King."

"This can't go on, either politically or economically," he said. "Hun Sen is very calm  ... [but] Ranariddh could lose everything."

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