Logo of Phnom Penh Post newspaper Phnom Penh Post - Ranariddh returns, vows loyalty to govt

Ranariddh returns, vows loyalty to govt

Ranariddh returns, vows loyalty to govt

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Prince Ranariddh has returned from 18 months of self-imposed exile in Malaysia, dodging his 2007 prison sentence for fraud

HENG CHIVOAN

Prince Norodom Ranariddh meets supporters after touching down at Siem Reap airport on Sunday after more than a year in self-imposed exile in Malaysia. He told reporters that he is ready to serve the nation.

AFTER 18 months in self-imposed exile, Norodom Ranariddh set foot on Cambodian soil Sunday, just days after a royal amnesty from King Norodom Sihamoni overturned the Prince's fraud conviction.

The Prince touched down at Siem Reap airport Sunday morning accompanied by his female companion Ouk Phalla, his son Norodom Sotheariddh and a group of close advisers.

"I'm happy to return to my homeland after 18 months of exile," the Prince told the Post at his royal residence in Siem Reap. "I wish to express my deep thanks to the King and Prime Minister Hun Sen for allowing my return."

Prince Ranariddh has been living in Malaysia since March 2007, when he was sentenced to 18 months in jail for embezzling funds from the sale of property belonging to his former party, Funcinpec. The King issued a royal amnesty for the Prince on Thursday on the request of Prime Minister Hun Sen, formerly Ranariddh's main political rival.

Despite past tensions between the two politicians, Prince Ranariddh struck a conciliatory note on Sunday, pledging his party's support for Hun Sen's new government. "I have served my nation for almost 25 years. But after the July election, the Norodom Ranariddh Party [NRP] is not an opposition party like other parties, and we are ready, on any occasion, to serve our nation," he said.

NRP spokesman Suth Dina told the Post that Prince Ranariddh spoke with Prime Minister Hun Sen on the telephone shortly after his arrival in Siem Reap and that they exchanged words of reconciliation. "They told each other that they were like brothers," he said.

Suth Dina added that while Ranariddh was not retiring from political life altogether, he had no immediate plans for a political comeback. "Upon his return, he wishes only to spend time with his family, friends and colleagues and participate in the P'Chum Ben festival. He has no immediate political agenda," he said, adding that the Prince plans to formally address the Cambodian press on October 2.

Cambodian People's Party lawmaker Cheam Yeap said Sunday that the Prince's return was a symbol of national reconciliation.

"When Prince Ranariddh arrives back and asks the CPP leaders to meet, the Prince will be welcomed. The CPP doesn't care about Ranariddh's politics, whether he continues to be involved in politics or not," he said.

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