Ranariddh Will Leave Cambodia

Just days after returning to Cambodia following a three-month absence, Funcinpec President Prince Norodom Ranariddh on Monday announced he will leave the country again today.

Prince Ranariddh said he is scheduled to attend a meeting in Spain, where Funcinpec will officially join the Center Democrats International, a coalition of democratic political parties.

“I will go to the [CDI] congress in Madrid,” he told reporters after a morning meeting of the Fun­cinpec steering committee members at the party’s headquarters. “I will use the chance to explain to CDI leaders about Cambodia’s current political situation.”

Prince Ranariddh said he will meet Prime Minister Hun Sen once he returns. He did not elaborate further on the party’s CDI membership.

Funcinpec spokesman Kassie Neou said he did not know when Prince Ranariddh would return as the royalist president is also considering invitations to visit the European Union parliament and the German parliament.

Prince Ranariddh’s departure, in the midst of efforts to reopen tripartite negotiations, will have

little impact on talks aimed at forming a new government and National Assembly, Kassie Neou said.

It “doesn’t matter” how long Prince Ranariddh will be gone, he said. “There is no big deal whether he is in the country or not because the party still continues working.”

The Funcinpec leader returned to Cambodia on Friday, after leaving the country in early Novem­ber. During his three-month absence, party officials said he was in France and Thailand, staying away from the country as part of Funcinpec’s strategy to avoid entering a two-party coalition

government with the CPP. Funcin­pec and the Sam Rainsy Party’s Alliance of Democrats have been pushing for a new government that includes the three parties.

CPP spokesman Khieu Kanha­rith on Monday also downplayed Prince Ranariddh’s departure.

“It might affect the speed of the process” of the negotiations, Khieu Kanharith said. But, he said, the CPP has already agreed to arrange a fresh round of meetings of the two task forces, appointed to discuss the creation of the new government and Assembly.

Negotiations among the task forces, made up of officials from all three parties, broke down in December after a string of meetings between them yielded no progress.

Though no firm date has yet been set on when those task forces will meet, Khieu Kanharith said the CPP is ready to participate.

“We are 24 hours open,” he said. “It’s not a problem.”

After a meeting of Alliance parliamentarians at Funcinpec headquarters Monday afternoon, Prince Ranariddh and Sam Rain­sy repeated they would officially merge their two parties sometime before the 2008 general election.

Plans to finalize the merger will be brought forth at Funcinpec’s congress, scheduled to be held next month, they said.

“If we keep Funcinpec Party in 2008, we will only have two or three seats [in the Assembly] remaining,” Prince Ranariddh said. “I have confidence that when we merge, we will lead toward success in the 2008 election.”

Though he did not know what the name of their newly formed party would be, Prince Ranariddh said: “So far, the Alliance of Democrats is [a] very beautiful [name].”

Prince Ranariddh and Sam Rainsy also announced they would call for a national re-

election if the current political deadlock is not solved by late April.

Meanwhile, nearly all 50 Alliance parliamentarians issued a statement announcing their support for Prince Ranariddh’s leadership in solving the months-long political dispute.

The statement said the parliamentarians remain “united under the leadership of Prince Rana­riddh to strengthen the Alliance of Democrats” and “strongly reject any attempt to split between Funcinpec and Sam Rainsy Party.”

In late December and early January, some 200 lower-level Funcinpec members signed their names on two separate petitions addressed to Prince Ranariddh, stating they were not satisfied with Funcinpec’s partnership with the Sam Rainsy Party.

(Additional reporting by Wency Leung)


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