A Japanese-brokered plan to bring back deposed first prime minister Prince Norodom Ranariddh ran into yet another obstacle over the weekend, as King Norodom Sihanouk announced he will not grant the prince a pardon without first receiving the written approval of the country’s two prime ministers.
“If the official, written, non-verbal response is vague or says, ‘It is for Your Majesty to decide,’ I will decide to do nothing at all,” the King said in an interview Saturday with palace staff.
“Without a very clear yes from both prime ministers together, I will once again be dragged through the mud, vilified, insulted, abused, accused of all manner of crimes and faults by the press, radio, TV, supporters of our strongmen, if I ever dare to grant an amnesty to my son,” the monarch asserted.
The prince, who earlier this month was sentenced in absentia to five years in prison on charges of illegally buying and transporting weapons, faces a second trial Tuesday on charges of colluding with the outlawed Khmer Rouge.
If, as is expected, the prince is convicted, he must then secure a pardon from his father the King to allow him to compete in July’s scheduled elections.
The prince, however, consistently has refused to seek a pardon himself, saying he recognizes neither the legitimacy of the court nor the legal proceedings against him.
The Japanese plan had been seen as a breakthrough on the vexed issue of a pardon when it suggested that the prince’s wife or sister could request an amnesty on the prince’s behalf.
Senior Hun Sen adviser Prak Sokhonn said Sunday he believed the second prime minister will be willing to provide the King with a written request for an amnesty if Prince Ranariddh accepts the verdict handed down by the court.
“It is very possible that Hun Sen will write the letter,” Prak Sokhonn said.
“But my question is, will the prince recognize the verdict? What is the use of him seeking an amnesty if he doesn’t consider himself to be guilty?” he asked.
Prince Ranariddh has consistently refused to present a defense against the charges, saying they are politically motivated.
Prak Sokhonn charged that a request for amnesty, no matter which family member it came from, would constitute an admission of guilt.
But he did not elaborate on whether Hun Sen would push the prince for such an admission before agreeing to the amnesty.
“The fact that he or his family request the amnesty will mean they recognize the verdict. The most important thing is for the prince to recognize the verdict,” he said.
“I don’t know in what form that recognition will come. But Samdech Hun Sen will not be an obstacle for the pardon.”
The international community has thrown its weight behind the Japanese proposal, hoping it will provide a means of bringing back the prince in time to participate in July’s scheduled elections.
Aides to the prince were unavailable for comment Sunday on whether the prince, his wife or his sister will request an amnesty for Prince Ranariddh.
In his interview, the King counseled against the prince returning before he has secured an amnesty, saying he would be powerless to protect him.
“I do not advise Prince Norodom Ranariddh to return to Cambodia before the question of his amnesty is plainly and clearly resolved in his favor,” the King said.
“If not, he will be arrested on his arrival home, and will go straight to prison. What is the point of braving one’s bad Karma if in place of being able to participate in legislative elections, one ends up in prison or sent into another world!