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Street fights and royal mistakes

Street fights and royal mistakes

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STREET VIOLENCE, APRIL 1

DEMONSTRATIONS for and against Prince Ranariddh swirled through the capital during

the Prince's five-day stay, climaxing in scattered violence on April 1.

Tensions began to climb April Fool's Day morning when Ranariddh's supporters scuffled

with a group opposed to the Prince outside the hotel.

Police broke up the clash after Royalist supporters tried seizing banners from a

group of about 100 demanding money from the Prince for damages caused in the July

fighting.

The altercation spurred pro-Funcinpec demonstrators to speed through the capital

on motos shouting Royalist slogans and racial slurs against the Vietnamese.

The motorists, carrying poster-board slogans and a portrait of Rana-riddh from Funcinpec

headquarters, settled in the parks surrounding Wat Phnom by early afternoon.

Within a few hours, more than 100 people opposed to Ranariddh marched through the

city and threw stones and other objects at the Prince's supporters gathered at the

pagoda.

Chaos ensued for about 15 minutes until the pro-Ranariddh group fled their attackers,

many of whom were armed with chains and clubs.

Journalists reported that at least one young demonstrator - a 12-year-old boy - sustained

serious head wounds and several others had minor injuries.

The next day military police and groups of royalist supporters played cat and mouse

through the streets near the hotel, but there were no major outbreaks of violence.

Military police cleared the area in front of the Le Royal in the morning, but knots

of young men, many on motos, spent the day cruising the area and lurking on nearby

street corners.

One supporter of the Prince was beaten and detained by police near the hotel, according

to Funcinpec officials.

Earlier Ranariddh issued an appeal for calm and his party's officials tried to persuade

the demonstrators to disperse.

"We've asked them to go home, and told them that if they support the Prince

they should go.

"We're getting the blame for this," said one exasperated party official.

Rights workers say the ringleaders of the pro-Ranariddh protesters are now in hiding.

The Prince left the grounds of the hotel only twice - once to go to Funcinpec's home

court for a rally of his party faithful on the safest ground available to them, and

once to go to the Royal Palace for a religious ceremony.

Foreign diplomats were aware of the street fighting, and of the fear the Prince's

highest-level supporters felt they were under.

Diplomats were told by the Prince: "I cannot campaign from the roof of the hotel,

not even a very nice hotel."

The government has promised access to radio and television to all political parties.

However, with more than 50 political parties registered for elections, and with the

campaign set to last one month, the main opposition - Funcinpec, Sam Rainsy's party,

the Son Sann Party and the Khmer Neutral Party - will apparently only receive about

8% of the total airtime allotted for campaigning by the National Election Commission.

Information Minister Ieng Mouly has promised a campaign "just like UNTAC".

However, observers doubt whe-ther Ranariddh will have the same air time, nor the

ability to fly around the country in a helicopter to campaign in a Sihanouk-esque

style, as he did had in 1993.

"In 1993 they had no party, no real organization, but they somehow won. When

the Prince went out to the provinces, he had no idea what to expect. They were just

happy to be back in Cambodia," one foreign observer said.

"It wasn't until the Prince went out to the provinces and saw that all those

people who just wanted to touch him. He saw their reaction. It was like he was the

King. He loved it. That is when they realized they could win."

Although there has been nine months to plan a strategy, the observer noted that Funcinpec

is again coming to Cambodia with little idea of what to expect.

And with political killings already reaching UNTAC-levels, calling on the same royal

magic used in 1993 may evoke a strong reaction from anti-royalists.

In the provinces, where opposition organizers are being intimidated and killed, one

Funcinpec official in Takeo summed up the royalists pre-campaign strategy: "At

the moment, Funcinpec members are just trying to save their own lives."

Now even Ranariddh's closest advisers are admitting that the Prince has made key

mistakes - particularly in regard to his military loyalists like General Nhek Bun

Chhay, Serey Kosal and Khan Saveoun.

"Many times [Asian and Western] diplomats asked me to make sure that Bun Chhay

got a pardon the same time as the Prince," said one of Ranariddh's cabinet.

"But [Ranariddh] said no.

"And he continued to say no.

"He said that the first person to be pardoned must be himself," he said.

"I think, I know... this was a big mistake. Nhek Bun Chhay is still [outside].

He may never be back."

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