King to Stay Through Polls

King Norodom Sihanouk has told Asean officials he will stay in Cambodia throughout the entire electoral process to act as an arbiter of whether elections are free and fair, Southeast Asian diplomats confirmed Mon­day.

In addition, Second Prime Min­ister Hun Sen on Saturday verbally sparred with a delegation of Asean officials over last week’s statement from the troika which alleged “election-related killings of political leaders.”

Representatives from the Asean “troika” states of Thailand, Indonesia and the Philippines, which comprise a task force on Cambodia, met separately on Saturday with the King, Hun Sen and deposed first prime minister Prince Norodom Ranariddh.

The group met on June 20 in Bangkok with the “Friends of Cambodia,” representatives from a group of major donor nations including Asean, and released a statement afterward.

Diplomats here said they wanted to convey their concerns to “key players” in the scheduled July 26 election. Sam Rainsy met with Asean representatives last week in Bangkok, diplomats said.

At issue in Saturday’s meeting with the King was a Friends of Cambodia request that the mon­arch remain in the country until the formation of the government to act as an arbiter of the electoral process, diplomats said.

“He will stay here through the elections, the opening of the National Assembly and the ap­pointment of a prime minister,” one senior Southeast Asian diplomat said Monday.

Another diplomat confirmed that Thai Foreign Minister Surin Pitsuwan, who led the Asean delegation, announced the agreement that the King would remain in Cambodia through the process in order to judge it.

Unless elections are deemed free and fair by the King, millions of dollars in international aid are expected to remain outside the grasp of the new government.

A Cambodian expert on Asean said Monday that the King is regarded by diplomats as the only person who can represent all sides of Cambodia internationally.

“The King can be seen as the only independent arbiter of the election process,” Kao Kim Hourn, executive director of the Cambodian Institute for Peace and Cooperation, said Monday. While Cambodian politicians see the King as playing a diminishing role in internal political matters, he said, “that’s not how it’s seen from the outside.”

Since he accepted the mon­arch’s title in September 1993, Sihanouk has regularly traveled to Beijing, ostensibly to address various medical problems. But his trips away from Cambodia widely have been perceived as shows of disapproval with political events in Phnom Penh.

Other diplomats agreed that the King’s presence during and after the elections will be central to national stability.

Diplomats and political analysts have said they fear an outbreak of violence if the CPP loses the elections.

During the Asean diplomats’ Saturday afternoon meeting with Hun Sen, the second prime minister took issue with a passage in the group’s statement, which expressed concern with alleged political slayings.

“There have been political executions in the region, but not in Cambodia,” the Southeast Asian diplomat quoted Hun Sen as repeatedly telling the delegation. He was apparently referring to political violence in this month’s election in the Philippines and May’s upheaval in Indonesia.

Surin responded that if the Cambodian government disagrees with the language used in the statement, its members should issue a communique “clarifying their position,” co-Minister of Cabinet Sok An told reporters on Sat­urday after the meeting.

“It is true that Samdech Hun Sen said he disagrees with paragraph four of the Asean Troika communique and Samdech Hun Sen also asked the sources of the information and asked to give the name of those political leaders, if they were killed, and Mr Surin was not able to respond,” Prak Sokhonn, an adviser to Second Prime Minister Hun Sen, ex­plained on Monday.

Hun Sen said the government had not released a critical reply because he wanted Asean’s continued good will, the diplomat said.

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