The political rehabilitation of the mysterious man of letters and ardent government critic, Ruom Ritt, continued Tuesday with the release of the Royal Palace’s monthly bulletin, which contained several unusually conciliatory words toward Prime Minister Hun Sen.
Famous for his years of terse critique of the Hun Sen government, Ruom Ritt apologized to the premier in a letter on Sunday and in his Royal Palace correspondence acknowledges Hun Sen’s “grand” leadership, while throwing jabs at both the Sam Rainsy Party and Funcinpec.
These letters may be the last to appear in the palace publication. King Norodom Sihanouk stated earlier this month he would cease publishing his childhood friend’s letters, because they had caused “major problems.”
Hun Sen angrily denounced Ruom Ritt Monday, and while the prime minister is no stranger to verbal jousting with critics, his war of words with Ruom Ritt is complicated by speculation that the elusive letter writer is in fact King Sihanouk.
Such claims have angered the King, while Prince Norodom Ranariddh waded into the controversy on Tuesday by claiming that Ruom Ritt was a real person who lives in southwest France.
“Mr Ruom Ritt is a friend of the King and always makes analyses of the social and economic problems,” Prince Ranariddh told reporters.
Prince Ranariddh said he had never needed to contact Ruom Ritt because he had never been the target of his criticism.
However, in the dozen or so letters penned between March 19 and April 5 that appear in the King’s latest bulletin, Prince Ranariddh and Sam Rainsy are the focus of Ruom Ritt’s attack.
Among his letters, a far humbler Ruom Ritt lauds Hun Sen’s handling of the diplomatic fallout from the Jan 29 anti-Thai riots.
He also said the Sam Rainsy Party would not beat Hun Sen’s CPP in the July 27 general election, but could tip Prince Ranariddh’s Funcinpec for second place.
But Sam Rainsy should not count his political chickens before they hatch, Ruom Ritt said, adding that the opposition leader’s recent talk of a possible coalition with the CPP was a political disaster.
According to Ruom Ritt, Sam Rainsy’s call to the CPP to sideline Hun Sen as leader and form a coalition with the opposition had now made Funcinpec a more palatable partner for the CPP.
The personalities of Hun Sen “the strong man” and Sam Rainsy “the star politician” were an explosive combination in Cambodian politics, he added.
Ruom Ritt also warned that unless the CPP and Funcinpec won a controlling number of seats in the National Assembly, political disaster could befall Cambodia.
“But as in 1997…our ‘Great Leader’ will be in a position to ‘resolve’ any ‘problem,’” Ruom Ritt wrote, referring to Hun Sen. “His ‘Bonapartian’ army and police, whose officers are wearing the most prestigious decorations from…the ‘Sangkumian’ Khmer kingdom, will always be able to make the ‘dangerous’ rivals ‘reasonable’, if not ‘repentant.’”
“The Ranariddhists certainly know about this. And, soon, the Sam Rainsyists will know as well!!” he added.
“As for Samdech Krom Preah Norodom Ranariddh, he will continue, inevitably, to be a good, gentle and inoffensive ally-partner of the CPP and the Great Leader [and will be an ‘ideal’ King, ‘docile and obedient],’” he said in another letter.
Likely fueled by speculation that Ruom Ritt is a pen name for King Sihanouk, the controversy has also captured headlines in local Khmer-language newspapers.
The leading daily newspaper Rasmei Kampuchea (Light of Cambodia) published an open letter from “a group of people” Tuesday on its front page calling for Ruom Ritt to be silenced in order to prevent “conflict” between Cambodians.
It remains to be seen if Ruom Ritt’s apology and less-critical letters will appease Hun Sen, who has demanded “justice” for being the subject of his years of written abuse.
On Tuesday, Hun Sen blasted Sam Rainsy in a speech in Kompong Cham province and also recounted how he, as prime minister, could learn from the tactics of Achey—a character in the old Khmer tale of Thun Chey—a servant who fooled a king.
Hun Sen recounted how the king told Achey he hated him and did not want to see his face again. The following day, Achey painted a face on his buttocks and presented it to the king, Hun Sen said.
Hun Sen said the king demanded an explanation from Achey and the servant explained that he was forced to do so by the king’s earlier order.
“So I should learn from [Achey],” Hun Sen said.
King Sihanouk reportedly said over the weekend that Ruom Ritt will not disclose his address because he fears being the target of assassination.
(Additional reporting by Nhem Chea Bunly and Lor Chandara)