THE bombing of a Vietnamese-erected statue in Sihanoukville has prompted renewed
antagonism between Prince Norodom Ranariddh and the Hanoi government.
The First Prime Minister's lack of concern over the attack-and more particularly
his subsequent comment that a similar monument in Phnom Penh should be removed-drew
a sharp response from Cambodia's eastern neighbor.
Both Ranariddh's father, King Norodom Sihanouk, and Second Prime Minister Hun
Sen criticized Ranariddh's comment.
The Sihanoukville memorial was damaged by an explosion-caused by a grenade or
landmine, according to police-on the night of May 31.
The Vietnam Foreign Ministry issued a statement the next day condemning the blast
as "an act of provocation aimed at sabotaging the traditional friendship and
cooperation" between Cambodia and Vietnam.
The statement urged the Phnom Penh government to repair the monument, and take
measures to ensure such vandalism did not occur again.
Ranariddh, questioned by reporters June 2, brushed aside Hanoi's complaint, saying:
"Vietnam isn't happy, what can we do? I have got many things about which I am
not happy with Vietnam but I don't say anything."
He went on to say that the Cambodia- Vietnam friendship monument in central Phnom
Penh had stood for long enough. If Funcinpec won the next election, it would remove
the statute, which portrays a Vietnamese soldier and a Cambodian comrade standing
protectively over a Khmer woman and baby.
"If Funcinpec wins the election, and Funcinpec will win...the biggest memorial
near parliament has stood for a long time and it is time to stop them from standing
any longer, "Ranariddh said.
The Sihanoukville and Phnom Penh monuments, and others in virtually every Cambodain
provincial town, were built by Vietnam after its 1979 invasion to oust the Pol Pot
In an indignant riposte the day after Ranariddh's remarks, a Vietnam Foreign Ministry
spokesperson said: "If there was such a statement, it's very regrettable."
Any such call to remove the Phnom Penh monument "hurts the feelings"
and "runs counter to" the interests of the two countries, the spokesperson
said, adding: "Vietnam vehemently condemns any...act of provocation aimed at
undermining the time-honored friendly and cooperative relationship between the Vietnamese
and Cambodain people."
King Sihanouk, in a June 6 statement issued from Beijing, said that his son's
criticism of the Phnom Penh monument did not serve Cambodia's interests.
"In the interest of our relations with... Vietnam, and to ease the minds
of our national community, already seriously divided, I wish only that these sensitive
questions were not brought up," the King said.
Hun Sen, in a speech two days later, warned that removing Vietnamese-built monuments
would be "an attempt to destroy the criminal evidence of the genocidal [Pol
The volley of words between the First Prime Minister and Hanoi is the latest in
a long history of antagonism. Ranariddh has made repeated criticisms of Vietnam,
including accusations of the theft of Cambodian land.
The latest public spat also focused attention on Cambodia's impending admission
to the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (Asean) of which Vietnam is a member.
A June 4 commentary in the official Vietnamese Quan Doi Nhan Dan ( People's Army)
newspaper warned Cambodian politicians not to misinterpret Asean's decision to admit
the country as a member.
"Incidents in political life in Cambodia make analysts feel worried. Asean...has
agreed to accept three new members including Cambodia in July, but instability in
Cambodia is still a matter of international and regional concern," it said.
Ranariddh, in a June 10 communiqué, said he supported the pursuit of good
relations with Cambodia's neighbors based on respect for sovereignty, neutrality
and territorial integrity.
Stating that he welcomed a constructive dialogue with Vietnam, he said he believed
Asean membership would be favorable toward promoting sincere and mutually beneficial
cooperation between the two nations.