Prince Vows to End Sokimex Temple Deal

Funcinpec President Prince Norodom Ranariddh raised the stakes on his election campaign promises on Tuesday with a vow to end the privatization of the Angkor Wat complex and return temple management to the state.

The prince’s broadside of a CPP agreement—allowing the privately owned Sokimex petroleum company to control tourist revenue at Angkor Wat—follows on the heels of Funcinpec’s attack on the CPP over the controversial Olympic Stadium renovation deal.

Addressing a campaign rally in Siem Reap province, Prince Ranariddh promised that if Funcinpec won the election,       30 percent of Angkor Wat’s tourist revenue would stay in the province for development projects.

“If Funcinpec wins the election it will return Angkor Wat to state occupation,” the prince said in a speech broadcast on royalist Ta Prohm Radio.

Ta Prohm is the name of a temple within the Angkor temple complex.

Staff currently employed by the Sokimex-run Apsara Authority will be made state employees, the prince promised.

Sokimex President Sok Kong said on Tuesday his company had no sweet deal with the government, as 80 percent of the     $9 million raised at Angkor Wat in 2002 was handed over to the state.

“Sokimex got 20 percent because the staff belong to us and we also have to pay [tax],” Sok Kong said.

Sokimex’s right to collect temple revenue expires in 2005, but early cancellation would send a bad signal to investors, Sok Kong warned.

“Local and foreign investors will lose confidence and they will withdraw their investment and no investor will make business [in Cambodia],” he said.

With election campaign rhet­oric heating up and with ob­servers noting an escalation in violence over the weekend, Prime Minister Hun Sen dabbled in electioneering. He had prom­ised earlier to stay out of the campaign altogether.

Speaking in Kompong Speu province on Tuesday, Hun Sen assured Cambodians that economic stability would not be jeopardized during the monthlong campaign season.

Hun Sen also praised authorities for ensuring a calm beginning to the campaign period despite “some violence from dignitaries of some political parties.”

“I know about the feeling of our people over the words of some persons who violated the law and moral code. I appeal to be pa­tient,” said Hun Sen, adding that if patience prevails so too will order during the elections.

“Peace and national reconciliation should not be destroyed in only one month of the electoral campaign,” Hun Sen said in his speech aired on Apsara radio.

Hun Sen wrote to King Noro­dom Sihanouk on Saturday ac­cusing Prince Ranariddh of originally approving the widely unpopular agreement that handed the Olympic Stadium site over to a foreign construction company.

Funcinpec members have refuted Hun Sen’s claims and cite a March 3 letter signed by the prime minister stating the government found no reason to invalidate the Taiwanese Yuanta Group’s contract to develop the stadium.

Sam Rainsy Party lawmaker Son Chhay sent a letter to Prince Ranariddh on Monday asking the prince if he was bribed by the Yuanta Group for the Olympic Sta­dium deal.

Son Chhay also asked the prince if he would join the Sam Rainsy Party in promising to cancel the stadium contract and hold a full investigation if Funcinpec wins the election.

Meanwhile, the National Elec­tion Committee has issued an appeal to private media to refrain from insulting candidates and political parties.

NEC spokesman Leng Sochea said on Tuesday the appeal was made following numerous complaints, particularly against Ta Prohm radio. Ta Prohm was going beyond criticism of political platforms, and was attacking personalities in both the CPP and Sam Rainsy Party, he said.

“This radio pretends to be different and never abides by the code of conduct,” Leng Sochea said.

In Pailin, meanwhile, locals said they were dismayed that police officers appeared to have no code of conduct preventing officers from accompanying CPP campaign parades.

“I do not understand why police with big motorcycles and sirens escorted [CPP officials] like the prime minister. This is a campaign for votes, not to show power,” Pailin businessman Lath Nhoung said on Monday.

NEC Secretary-General Tep Ni­tha said there is no law prohib­it­ing police from escorting candidates, but it was unlikely to happen for other political parties.

(Reporting by Nhem Chea Bunly, Kim Chan, Van Roeun and Kevin Doyle)

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