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Ranariddh winces at Thai handshake

Ranariddh winces at Thai handshake

FIRST PRIME MINISTER Prince Nordom Ranariddh, upset with Thai Prime Minister Banharn

Silpa-archa for acting as a surprise and very public peacemaker between the Prince

and Hun Sen, said that he did not want any foreign intervention in Cambodian domestic

matters.

"Quarreling is our matter. If the national interest requires us to stop [quarreling],

we must know how to do so, without the need for others to take our hands together,

something which doesn't look good at all," Prince Ranariddh said in a speech

on June 21.

Emerging from a session at Chamkar Mon Palace the day earlier, Banharn stood between

Ranariddh and Hun Sen in front of a pack of cameramen and photographers. He grabbed

both Cambodian premiers' hands, coupled with his, and held them together.

At a press conference later that day, Banharn told Thai journalists that he conveyed

to the Cambodian Prime Ministers the concerns of Malaysian Premier Mahathir Mohamad

and Singaporean Premier Goh Chok Tong about the political situation in Cambodia.

Banharn said that if political tensions continue, it can affect foreign investors

and the prospect of Cambodia becoming a member of the Association of Southeast Asian

Nations (ASEAN).

"Both Prime Ministers [of Cambodia] should work in harmony because working in

Asean we need unity," Banharn said.

However, Ranariddh didn't take Banharn's mediatory gesture as a pride.

"If the King or a venerable monk took both [my and Hun Sen's] hands together,

I agree. [But] I think this [Banharn's intervention] is not quite [in the interest

of] our national pride," Ranariddh said.

Prince Ranariddh's tone in his speech at a school inauguration in downtown Phnom

Penh may be taken as half-joking and half-serious. Somewhat confusingly, he said

he did not mean to disagree with the Thai leader but that he was dissatisfied with

him.

"Banharn is a man. If he were a woman, I wouldn't mind her holding my hand.

Frankly speaking, I'm not so happy," he said.

Prince Ranariddh said he did not dare to take his hand away from Banharn's as it

would have been inappropriate. "Otherwise Mr. Banharn would have said 'see,

they [Cambodian leaders] really do quarrel with each other'."

Ranariddh spoke while Banharn and his delegation were visiting Angkor Wat in Siem

Reap. He told radio and television crews - in a spirit of jest - not to broadcast

his speech until the Thai guests left the country.

Political tensions soared after Ranariddh threatened in March to pull his Funcinpec

party out of the National Assembly and the coalition government if his demand for

equal district governorships with the Cambodian People's Party (CPP) was not met.

CPP's Vice-President Hun Sen sternly rejected the demand and, in turn, threatened

to use force to suppress any move to abolish the Constitution before 1998 national

elections.

Cabinet Minister Sok An downplayed the scope of the Funcinpec-CPP feud, likening

it to routine family affairs. Speaking to the press after talks with the Thai delegation

on June 20, he blamed media reports for painting only a bad picture about the Kingdom.

"Between political parties, some problems are normal. What is important is the

leaders co-operate well," An said.

Despite Ranariddh's disappointment, Banharn's visit - the first since his cabinet

was sworn into office one year ago - did yield some fruit.

Banharn encouraged Thai businessmen to invest in Cambodia.

"Cambodia is a very importnat investment destination for Thailand," he

said at a seminar on Thai investment opportunities in Cambodia.

Among foreign investors in the Kingdom, Thailand occupies 9th place, with registered

capital of $30 million, according to Banharn.

He also said an agreement was needed to avoid double taxation between Cambodia and

Thailand.

"Once in place, this agreement will help reduce to a certain extent the tax

burden to investers from both our countries," he said.

The Thai government donated medical equipment worth 200 million baht and promised

to return 13 pieces of stolen artifacts to Cambodia, said officials.

Banharn, Ranariddh and Hun Sen inked a memorandum of understanding to begin a feasibility

study on the construction of a dam at Stung Menam in Koh Kong province.

Cost and details of the project were not immediately available. However, Minister

of Industry Pou Sothirak said that the hydro-power plant - if it is built - would

generate 460 megawatts of electricity for consumers in Thailand's Trat province,

Koh Kong province and the port-city of Sihanoukville.

"This is a very big plan which can benefit both countries," said Roland

Eng, Cambodia's Ambassador to Thailand.

Thai Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Foreign Affairs Amnuay Viravan and Cambodia's

Commerce Minister Cham Prasidh inked an agreement on trade, economic and technical

cooperation. Finance Minister Keat Chhon and his counterpart Bodi Chunnanonda signed

an accord for the setting up of a joint sub-committee on finance between the two

Kingdoms.

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