Logo of Phnom Penh Post newspaper Phnom Penh Post - "We're not dealing with rational people"

"We're not dealing with rational people"

"We're not dealing with rational people"

T he most vivid memories are the guns pointed at her three children, and her husband

in a jail cell.

That's what Christine Alfsen Norodom remembers most about these ten days since her

husband, Prince Sirivudh, was arrested. The first horror was when the armed troops

around her house pointed their guns at her three children while they were playing.

"There were sharpshooters on the roofs of the neighbor's houses, supposedly

for our "protection." They aimed their guns at my children. Now my children

are terrified to go out on the terrace.

The second was when, after having been told that King Sihanouk and Prince Ranariddh

had given their word that Prince Sirivudh would not be jailed, the judge in the case

showed up at their door, read him the charges and demanded that Sirivudh leave with

him. She asked to go too, fearful that he could be taken to a hiding place or perhaps

murdered along the way. "We are not dealing with rational people here,"

she says.

Minutes later she was looking at him in a concrete cell at T3 prison, with the jail

guards kneeling before him. "It was like something out of 19th century Dickens,"

she said. "I was worried that he would become sick, and they would use that

as an excuse to say 'he got sick and died'."

At that point, Tuesday afternoon, she called the King and Queen. "They were

appalled. They had no idea." Sar Kheng intervened at the King's asking, and

Sirividuh was moved to a room at the Ministry of Interior. The room had been made

ready for him days earlier.

"The only way I can keep my cool is if my children are safe," says Princess

Christine as she tells this story at her offices at UNESCO. The other way she is

keeping calm is by going to work every day. She has worked for the United Nations

for more than a decade and she currently runs UNESCO's environmental programs in

Cambodia.

After the incident with the guns she decided to move her children to a "friendly

house" where they have been spending nights since her husband was arrested and

taken to jail Nov 21 for an alleged assassination plot.

Christine says her husband is putting his full faith in his half-brother King Sihanouk,

that he will be safe and treated fairly. Although there is 30 year age difference

between the king and his younger half brother, the two get along well. A few days

before his arrest, he had been in Siem Reap with the King, helping him film a new

movie.

"He is a Sihanoukist. My husband from the very beginning has always been a Sihanoukist.

He has never been Ranariddh-ist or a Hun Sen-ist."

Princess Christine says that Sirivudh will not leave Cambodia. He has done nothing

wrong, she says. "He is the victim and they are the culprit. The government

should apologize to him."

During his many years in exile in France, where his family went during the Lon Nol

era, Sirivudh never applied for French citizenship because he always intended to

return to Cambodia, she says. In France he was involved in music and classical dance

and worked for a time as an auditor. His opportunity to return came in 1991, two

years after having signed on to work with Prince Ranariddh at Funcinpec party offices

in Bangkok. Sirivudh returned to Cambodia to prepare for the return of King Sihanouk.

By then, he and Christine Alfsen Norodom, who is French, were married and had two

babies. They had met in Bankgok where she was working as a UN environmental officer.

In 1991, she moved to a job in Cambodia with the UNTAC mission.

"Our marriage has always been based on mutual respect of each other's world.

I am an international civil servant; he's a politician. I have my friends; he has

his. But I think he has no friends left here." She said her lack of political

bias has enabled her to work well with the ministers from both parties, despite Sirivudh's

position as secretary general of Funcinpec.

She was in France when Sirivudh first was put under house arrest and she learned

of the arrest when a friend phoned her. She had phoned home Friday morning, and talked

with Sirivudh, who assured her, "everything is fine. The children are fine.

He had just been filming in Siem Reap with the King." Their Scottish nanny,

Janet MacDonnell, was taking care of their three children, two princesses age five

and three and, the young prince, 14 months.

MacDonnell describes her surprise Saturday morning when she got up early to walk

the dog, and Sirivudh knocked on her door. "I thought he might be bringing the

baby with a wet nappy. He said it wouldn't be a good idea to walk the dog this morning.

I looked out and there were 30 soldiers with guns."

Princess Christine returned to Phnom Penh Monday Nov 20, greeted at the airport by

a truck full of troops and her employer, and Monday night before Sirivudh was taken

to jail, she said they didn't sleep much. They talked about the prospects of long

term political imprisonment. "We said, look at Mandela. He made it for 27 years.

Aung San Suu Kyi - she stayed in house arrest for five years."

She is hoping that Sirivudh will not be in jail for that long, though she has little

faith he will get a fair trial. "The trial will last two or three hours. They'll

sentence him to a long time in prison," she says. But if he is, she will stay

and continue to work. At UNESCO, she is in charge of several key environmental programs.

One is protection of the Tonle Sap. She says she joked recently to the Queen that,

"Sirivudh and the Tonle Sap have something in common. They are both national

symbols, and they are both in trouble."

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