Prime Minister Hun Sen on Wednesday confirmed that his longtime rival Prince Norodom Ranariddh will soon return to Cambodia without having to serve the prison sentence that kept the royalist leader in self-imposed exile for the past 18 months.
Hun Sen said he was allowing the prince to return before the end of the month in the name of “national reconciliation.”
Government spokesman and Information Minister Khieu Kanharith had initially announced last week that Prince Ranariddh had been given the “green light” to return.
“I would like to inform you that Prince Norodom Ranariddh will return during the Pchum Ben festival,” Hun Sen said at the National Institute of Education in Phnom Penh.
Pchum Ben, which began Monday, will conclude Sept 30.
“Before, [Prince Ranariddh] attacked me and I attacked him back; now he is calm, so I am calm with him,” Hun Sen added. “Prince Norodom Ranariddh has recognized the election result and urged the new government to form soon.”
The prime minister added that an unspecified solution had been found that would enable the prince to return without having to serve two-thirds of his 18-month prison sentence—the typical minimum needed before a Royal pardon is considered.
“The King will grant the prince’s amnesty before Norodom Ranariddh’s return,” Hun Sen said.
Prince Ranariddh was sentenced for breach of trust by the Phnom Penh Municipal Court last year and that decision has since been upheld by the Supreme Court.
Hun Sen also asked for understanding from Funcinpec Secretary-General Nhiek Bun Chhay for not consulting with him before approving the prince’s return.
Nhiek Bun Chhay had originally brought the breach of trust case against Prince Ranariddh in late 2006 over the sale of Funcinpec’s former headquarters.
“I did not consult with you as a plaintiff, but please understand my difficulty,” Hun Sen said.
Nhiek Bun Chhay told a reporter last week that he did not object to the prince returning at this point.
Norodom Ranariddh Party spokesman Suth Dina could not be reached for comment.
Despite his newfound “gentle” attitude—as Hun Sen described it—toward Prince Ranariddh, the prime minister lashed out against the SRP, saying that legal action might be taken against the opposition party for statements made about the upcoming National Assembly and the leadership of the CPP.
Hun Sen said the SRP had insulted the legislature by calling it a “ghost, Vietnamese and thief Assembly.”
“Should we take legal action when the Assembly is being insulted?” the premier asked. “To lift [parliamentary] immunity is not difficult; we have enough lawmakers to lift their immunity,” he said.
Hun Sen insisted, however, that his talk of legal action was not a threat, even though he then revealed what he called his “defeat” strategy for taking on opponents, which he said he successfully used on the Khmer Rouge and Funcinpec.
Giving the word defeat an alternate English spelling of “DIFID,” the prime minister said, in English, that it stood for “divide, isolate, finish, integration, destroy or development.”
SRP President Sam Rainsy said the prime minister’s remarks came as little surprise and were of little concern.
“This is not the first time we have dealt with it,” he said.