Crowds Expected at Prince’s Weapons Trial

Crowds are expected to flock to the Defense Ministry today at 8:30 am for the trial of deposed first prime minister Prince Norodom Ranariddh on charges of illegally purchasing and transporting weapons.

The trial is to be held at the ministry because the Military Court is too small to contain the expected audience, Military Court Director Ney Thol said Tuesday. Observers, however, have questioned the choice of venue, noting that holding the trial in a government office does nothing to enhance the judiciary’s already tarnished image of independence.

The prince’s cabinet in Bangkok issued a statement on the eve of the trial, condemning the court as politically controlled and predicting a conviction for Prince Ranariddh.

“Hun Sen’s court will condemn Prince Norodom Ranariddh, but the prince will be acquitted by history and the people of Cambodia,” the statement said. “It is well known that the judicial system in Cambodia is totally controlled by Hun Sen.”

The statement cited remarks by top UN rights envoy Thomas Hammarberg, King Norodom Sihanouk and an Amnesty International official in the defense of its argument.

Prosecutors have not disclosed which laws the prince will be prosecuted under, nor have they given details of the evidence likely to be used against the prince. One legal expert speculated Tuesday that the court likely would resort to article 50 of the Untac criminal code, which deals with illegal weapons purchases and possession, as well as a 1992 State of Cambodia law that covers similar legal territory.

The case against the prince likely will center on documents related to the May 26 seizure of weapons and ammunition in crates addressed to Prince Ranariddh.

Several such documents—including a cargo manifest for the ship that brought the goods to Sihanoukville Port and a letter requesting customs clearance for crates listed as containing spare parts—were seized by CPP officials after the discovery of the cache.

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