King To Silence Outspoken Childhood Friend

The letters of Ruom Ritt, the controversial pen pal of King Norodom Sihanouk, will not appear—from Friday onward—in the King’s monthly bulletin of official correspondence.

However, King Sihanouk said in a statement on Thursday that he will still receive, in private, the politically astute writing of his childhood friend, Ruom Ritt, who reportedly lives in the French Pyrenees mountains, but is a keen observer of Cambodian politics.

King Sihanouk said Ruom Ritt retains his “deepest and unrelenting affection,” but his friend’s caustic letters were causing “major problems.”

However, some letters from Ruom Ritt received prior to Fri­day will appear in the next bulletin, the King said, adding that many readers of the bulletin enjoyed the letters and wished to send their praise.

The King did not specify what problems lead to the censoring of his long-time friend and frequent correspondent, but Ruom Ritt has long been critical of Prime Mini­ster Hun Sen’s government.

In recent months, Ruom Ritt’s letters have contained bitingly sarcastic summaries and analyses of Hun Sen’s failings in letters that display an amazing grasp of Cambodian history, particularly the activities of King Sihanouk and his Sangkum Reastr Niyum period.

Ruom Ritt wrote on Thursday that he was gutted by the King’s decision. But in his usual cutting prose placed the blame squarely at Hun Sen’s doorstep.

“It is with deep sadness that I learned today the news that your Majesty has decided to put away your childhood friend who is so attached to your person,” Ruom Ritt wrote.

“My crime is to dare say and write for the [monthly bulletin] the honest truth about what is not working in Cambodia, in the context of its highest good and even vital interest of our nation,” Ruom Ritt wrote.

Ruom Ritt said he was inspired to write for the “true and authentic” Cambodian people. Those who had remained true patriots and had not accepted “any decoration, any honor, any charity,” he said.

Ending his letter with a new year’s wish for King Sihanouk, Ruom Ritt said he hoped Hun Sen would cease criticizing the country’s revered monarch.

“I allow myself to wish you that our Great and [all powerful] Leader diminishes progressively the number of his famous outbursts toward you in his long and admirable speeches,” he wrote.

Ruom Ritt’s political writings have led some to claim that he is in fact the King writing under an assumed name.

However, such speculation has in the past greatly angered the King.

King Sihanouk is currently in China receiving medical treatment, but he is expected to return to Cambodia before the July 27 general election.

(Additional reporting by Flora Stubbs)

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