Prince Trial To Focus on Conspiracy

The second trial of deposed first prime minister Prince Nor­o­dom will open today, with the prosecution expected to focus on proving that the prince conspired to overthrow the coalition government with the help of Khmer Rouge hard-liners.

Prosecutor Sao Sok said Mon­day that an agreement signed by the prince and nominal Khmer Rouge leader Khieu Samphan will form a key part of the prosecution, along with other evidence alleging an aggressive military alliance between the prince and the rebel faction.

Twenty-four witnesses, including the prince’s former military adviser, Tum Sambol, are also to testify at the Military Court trial at the Ministry of Defense. The trial is expected to last two days, Sao Sok said.

A copy of the agreement be­tween the two leaders appears in a second white paper produced by the government to justify the July 5-6 fighting, which gives further hints of the kind of evidence likely to be used in the trial.

In the paper, the government asserts that the prince negotiated with rebel hard-liners in Anlong Veng without the government’s permission because he was seeking to use their forces to overthrow his CPP coalition partners.

The prince and his three co-defendants—Funcinpec generals Serey Kosal, Nhiek Bun Chhay and Chao Sambath—are charged with violating three separate laws, one of them the 1994 statute outlawing the Khmer Rouge, which carries a maximum life sentence and a minimum of 20 years. The other two laws relate to the criminal and military violation of national security.

On March 4, the prince was convicted of illegally buying and transporting weapons and sentenced to five years in prison. As in the first trial, the prince, who is self-exiled in Bangkok, will not put up a defense, refusing to recognize the charges against him.

Second Prime Minister Hun Sen has repeatedly condemned the prince’s attempts to win over the Anlong Veng hard-liners, saying the negotiations were illegal under the 1994 law because the prince did not seek the permission of his coalition partner.

Prince Ranariddh has asserted that he was not consulted over the CPP’s 1996 negotiations with the rebels, which re­sulted in the defection of senior commander Heng Pong, closely followed by former rebel leader Ieng Sary.

According to legal experts and analysts, however, there is nothing in the 1994 law on the Khmer Rouge that specifically outlaws negotiations with the group, suggesting the prosecution should look elsewhere if they wish to present a watertight case.

“The KR law never says it’s illegal to negotiate with the group,” one expert noted. “If that’s how they interpret it, then it was violated in 1996, whether or not both prime ministers agreed to it.”

One diplomat pointed to the July 1996 defection of Ieng Sary and his Phnom Malai and Pailin-based group as the beginning of a race between the two prime ministers to win support and credit for bringing the rebels back into the government fold under the banner of national reconciliation.

“The whole issue boils down to a competition between the two prime ministers. The Ieng Sary initiative was basically done by the second prime minister,” the diplomat said, charging that it was Hun Sen’s success on that front that turned Prince Ran­a­riddh toward Anlong Veng in a bid to win over the hard-liners.

“The key question is whether the prince introduced the Khmer Rouge into Phnom Penh rather than whether he had links with them,” one analyst asserted, re­ferring to assertions by Hun Sen that Prince Ranariddh smuggled hard-liners into the capital to prepare for battle against the CPP.

July’s bloody street battles between rival forces loyal to Hun Sen and the prince were subsequently justified by the government as an attempt to expunge rebel forces from the capital.

If the prosecution proves that the prince intended to use Khmer Rouge forces to overthrow the government, analysts say, then it would have grounds to convict the prince and his co-defendants under the 1994 law, on the basis of a conspiracy to promote the rebel movement.

The diplomat said former Sam­lot re­b­els were recruited in­to the bodyguard unit of Serey Kosal, the prin­ce’s security adviser, but “the whole thing comes down to whether they were legal troops. Of course, the prosecution will say they were not.” (Additional re­porting by Kimsan Chantara)

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