Deposed first prime minister Prince Norodom Ranariddh returned to Phnom Penh apparently for good Monday, vowing to enter his party for elections before the registration deadline.
“I’m here to check on progress for the elections,” the prince told reporters as he greeted Funcinpec officials who came to Pochentong Airport to welcome him back from Bangkok. “I have to go and register of course.”
The registration deadline for political parties wishing to compete in the polls is Thursday.
The eligibility of the prince’s party, Funcinpec, is still uncertain, due to the presence in the northwest of resistance troops fighting in the prince’s name.
Government officials have asserted this could rule out Funcinpec under an electoral law forbidding parties to control private armies or autonomous zones.
Despite this controversy, the prince said he wanted to cooperate with the government in order to lay the groundwork for the forthcoming elections.
“It is the responsibility of the two main political parties,” the prince said.
But he reiterated his refusal to drop the title of first prime minister—an action Second Prime Minister Hun Sen has insisted on if the two rivals are to meet.
“I have the mandate from the people of Cambodia. Only the people of Cambodia can take it back from me,” he said. “I hope that His Excellency Samdech Hun Sen changes his mind.”
Senior Hun Sen aide Prak Sokhonn, however, on Monday dismissed the suggestion that his boss might change his stance and meet the prince. “If the prince still considers himself first prime minister, there will be three prime ministers and that is the problem,” Prak Sokhonn said.
The prince, who visited Cambodia twice last month to lay the groundwork for a permanent return, took up residence Monday in a house close to the US Embassy, according to his aides.
Lu Laysreng, the prince’s personal representative, said Monday the location of the residence, close to the embassy of one of the prince’s most powerful international advocates, was not linked to any security fears recently expressed by Funcinpec officials.
But an aide to the prince told Agence France-Presse on Monday that the prince’s movements would be “severely restricted” until international election observers, organized by the UN, were in place in every province and rural center.
“We need the international observers—as many as possible—in the villages to protect the prince,” the aide said. “There are still not enough security arrangements being made.”
The prince’s first official engagement is today, when he meets with 360 party representatives from all over the country attending a four-day training session on election observation, said senior aide May Sam Oeun.