King Norodom Sihamoni and his parents, retired King Norodom Sihanouk and Queen Norodom Monineath, will return to Phnom Penh from China this Saturday or Sunday, two Funcinpec officials said.
The announcement follows Norodom Sihanouk’s pledge in a letter posted to his Web site never to return to Cambodia, following a marked deterioration in relations between the Palace and the government over the border issue.
“I’m very happy to hear they will come back,” Funcinpec Deputy Secretary-General Chhim Seak Leng said Sunday, referring to a speech Saturday at Funcinpec headquarters by co-Minister of Interior Prince Norodom Sirivudh to mark the first anniversary of King Sihamoni’s coronation.
“The situation has been very tense recently. I think it will be relieved,” Chhim Seak Leng added.
Prime Minister Hun Sen hinted at the possibility of dismantling the monarchy in a speech two weeks ago, and as recently as last week he said Khmer-language TV stations would continue to air past border documents and anti-Sihanouk songs.
“King Norodom Sihamoni will return home on November 5th or 6th,” Prince Sirivudh said, according to tapes of the speech broadcast by Radio Free Asia.
“And the other good news is that he won’t return alone. The King-Father of National Reconciliation and Queen Mother will also come along,” the prince said.
But Oum Daravuth, Queen Monineath’s nephew and King Sihamoni’s cousin, declined Sunday to confirm whether the royal family would return together.
“What Norodom Sirivudh said is up to him,” he said. “I know only that [King] Sihamoni will come back on the 6th,” he added, saying he had confirmed it with the Cambodian ambassador to China.
Minister of Information Khieu Kanharith said Sunday that the royal family decided to return to Cambodia after Prime Minister Hun Sen briefed them on developments surrounding the border issue. Khieu Kanharith did not say when the premier made his report or what was discussed.
The Royal Palace Cabinet, he added, had requested that the government arrange a return flight for the royal family.
Khmer-language media had reported that the Chinese government had arranged a special flight.
Khieu Kanharith also said he had told Khmer-language radio and TV stations to stop broadcasting past border documents, which had been given exhaustive coverage and unprecedented airtime in recent weeks.
He said the request to stop airing the documents—as well as the idea to broadcast them in the first place—came not from Hun Sen but from government ministers.
The premier, he explained, was simply following their counsel.
Khieu Kanharith also lamented that he had been rebuked by Hun Sen for not stopping the airing of the documents sooner. It was supposed to have stopped by Friday at 8 pm, but did not stop until 10 pm.
Opposition lawmaker Son Chhay welcomed the news of the royal return. “The former King knows what he’s doing,” he said, adding that Norodom Sihanouk was the only one who could unify Cambodia’s fractious society and political community. “The young King would find it very difficult to solve the crisis himself.”
But he questioned why relations between the Palace and the government had made a “180-degree change.”
“Something is going on behind closed doors,” he speculated.
Son Chhay said he doubted the prime minister had obtained a pledge from the royal family to sign the additional agreement to the 1985 border treaty with Vietnam, suggesting instead that Hun Sen was trying to take the edge off the tense political situation—and that he might be bowing to Chinese pressure.
“It’s a big mistake to think China is not interested in Cambodian politics,” he said.
Hun Sen traveled to China on Oct 18 and returned the next day, several days earlier than expected.