A person claiming to be the elusive Ruom Ritt, retired King Norodom Sihanouk’s former “pen pal” and a one-time government critic, allegedly emerged from a long self-imposed silence to give a polemical radio interview focusing on Vietnamese border issues.
A man alleging to be Mr Ritt told the Internet broadcaster Khmer World Radio last week that Cambodia was losing land to Vietnam due to the policies of the current government.
Claiming to be speaking by telephone from France, the person claiming to be Mr Ritt argued that if Prime Minister Hun Sen does not take steps to properly demarcate the border, Cambodia risks dissolving into Vietnam just as the Champa kingdom did centuries ago.
“If the prime minister does not [act], and creates a risk to Cambodia and faces serious losses like the Cham, he must bear significant responsibility to history,” he said.
In the interview, he also warmly praised opposition leader Sam Rainsy, who was sentenced in absentia last month to two years in jail for uprooting demarcation posts in an effort to protest what he says is Vietnamese border encroachment.
Julio Jeldres, Norodom Sihanouk’s official biographer, cast doubt on the authenticity of the interview, which he said could be mischievous.
“I feel it is someone in the USA that is taking everybody for a ride!!!” Mr Jeldres wrote in an email yesterday.
Mr Ritt has always been a writer of letters and has never before spoken in public. In the 1990s and early 2000s, Mr Ritt followed current events closely and sent frequent dispatches to then-King Sihanouk, who published them in his monthly bulletins. Mr Ritt’s opinions and stylistic quirks tended to mirror Norodom Sihanouk’s own, sparking speculation that the pen pal was in fact the King.
Regarding the true Mr Ritt’s identity, Mr Jeldres said: “The ‘official’ version is that he is an old classmate of HM the King Father Sihanouk, who lives in retirement somewhere in France. But….?”
In 2003, after Mr Hun Sen denounced Mr Ritt for years of epistolary criticism, Mr Ritt responded with several apologetic messages praising the prime minister. Soon afterwards he retired as a correspondent, surfacing only infrequently in writing in recent years.
“Ruom Ritt has been criticizing the government for a long time, but he criticizes without doing anything,” Council of Ministers spokesman Phay Siphan said yesterday. “It’s easy for people to play the ball with their mouths but they can’t play the ball on the field. The government, we’re on the field,” he said.