Lips Sealed About Prince Ranariddh’s Absence

The absence of Funcinpec Pres­ident Prince Norodom Ra­nariddh, who departed Cam­bo­dia more than a month ago, has left some party officials at a loss as to where he is and when he will return.

Some party officials said they believed that the prince had been in Bangkok, while others said he is now in France. Still others said they were clueless as to his whereabouts.

“I have no idea,” Princess Nor­odom Vacheara, a parliamentarian who serves on Funcinpec’s steering committee, said Mon­day. “That’s the question I ask everybody…his close friends, and nobody can tell me when he will be back and where he is right now, really.” She added: “Maybe they don’t want to tell me. Maybe it’s a political obstacle. I don’t know, really.”

Prince Ranariddh left the country shortly after attending a Nov 5 meeting with his father, King Norodom Sihanouk, and leaders of the CPP and the opposition Sam Rainy Party, Funcinpec officials said.

During the meeting, their first since the July 27 election, the party leaders agreed that they would create a coalition government together and conceded to accept the CPP’s nomination of Hun Sen as premier.

They also agreed that Prince Ranariddh would be the Assem­bly president if Hun Sen remains prime minister, even though the prince had earlier said he did not wish to continue as Assembly president.

Since the Nov 5 meeting, with their leader out of the country, Funcinpec has had to grapple with a lawsuit launched by Hun Sen and the CPP, charging that Prince Ranariddh defamed the premier by falsely implicating him in the Oct 18 shooting death of Chuor Chetharith, a pro-Fun­cinpec radio journalist.

Funcinpec filed its own court complaint against Hun Sen on Dec 1, alleging that the premier instigated the killing since he warned Chuor Chetharith’s em­ployer, the Ta Prohm radio station, not to broadcast programs crit­ical of his speeches.

In Prince Ranariddh’s absence, Funcinpec officials have attended three other sessions with the King, two of which were aimed at forming a new government and National Assembly.

And, in recent days, Funcin­pec Secretary-General Prince Noro­dom Sirivudh, who is acting on behalf of Prince Ranariddh, has come under fire from both Hun Sen and the King for breaking a promise he allegedly made never to return to politics.

Meanwhile, the three parties ex­pect CPP Assembly Dean Chea Soth to convene the official opening session on Monday.

Prince Sisowath Sirirath, Fun­cinpec’s co-minister of defense, said Tuesday he did not believe the party is affected by the absence of its president.

“I think the Funcinpec party is in good hands with Prince Sir­ivudh chairing the negotiations,” he said by telephone.

Prince Sirirath said he believed that Prince Ranariddh was in the South of France, fulfilling his duties as a law professor at the university in Aix-en-Provence.

He added that Prince Rana­riddh usually returns to France twice a year to teach so he can maintain his professorship there. Prince Sirirath said he did not know when Prince Ranariddh would return.

Christine Pen, Prince Rana­riddh’s chief of protocol, also would not say when the prince is due back in Phnom Penh, deflecting questions to Kol Pheng, Fun­cinpec parliamentarian and secretary-general of the Assembly.

Kol Pheng also said Prince Ra­nariddh was in France, but did not know when he would return. He declined further comment.

Funcinpec spokesman Kassie Neou said Prince Ranariddh was “not yet” on his way back.

“He will [return], but later,” Kassie Neou said, without giving a firm date. He said he preferred not to disclose the prince’s whereabouts.

Sam Rainsy Party spokesman Ung Bun-Ang said Prince Ran­ariddh’s absence did not affect the Alliance of Democrats’ negotiation strategies. “He’s not here but we’re in communication all the time,” Ung Bun-Ang said.

Opposition leader Sam Rainsy is at­tending a conference of Asian dem­ocrats in Bangkok and is due back Friday, Ung Bun-Ang said.

CPP spokesman Khieu Kanha­rith declined on Tuesday to comment on the prince’s absence.


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