On his arrival in Phnom Penh Tuesday, Funcinpec President Prince Norodom Ranariddh said he will refuse to meet with Prime Minister Hun Sen, scuttling hopes that his return would hasten the formation of a new coalition government and diffuse heightened tensions between Funcinpec and the CPP.
Prince Ranariddh, who returned after a monthlong stay in France, where he said he was teaching at a university, lambasted the CPP for pulling out of negotiations with Funcinpec aimed at ending the more than nine-monthlong political deadlock.
“I will not meet Hun Sen and I will not sign any further contracts with him. All I need is for the two [parties] to resume talks,” he told reporters at Phnom Penh International Airport.
On Monday, the CPP broke off negotiations with Funcinpec, claiming the pro-Funcinpec Ta Prohm radio station violated a media truce between Prince Ranariddh and Hun Sen by broadcasting programs critical of the CPP.
A statement by CPP Secretary-General Say Chhum issued Monday said talks could not continue unless Funcinpec removed Ta Prohm’s director, Noranarith Anandayath, and that Prince Ranariddh and Hun Sen renewed their media truce.
Flanked by Noranarith Anandayath, Prince Ranariddh threw his support behind the Ta Prohm director, adding he cannot fire him because the station does not belong to Funcinpec.
Noranarith Anandayath declined to speak to reporters.
However, during a rare news conference at the party’s headquarters earlier Tuesday, Funcinpec spokesman Kassie Neou said Ta Prohm had already agreed to stop broadcasting programs critical of the CPP.
The station was merely disseminating information as permitted in a free press and did not violate the truce between Prince Ranariddh and Hun Sen, Kassie Neou said.
He added that Funcinpec suspected the CPP was merely searching for an excuse to avoid a number of contentious Funcinpec demands for a new government policy platform.
Those demands include rais-ing civil servants’ salaries, reforming the National Election Committee and lowering gasoline prices.
The CPP showed no sign of softening its resolve to stay out of negotiations Tuesday.
“Ask Funcinpec to open its eyes,” Hun Sen’s adviser Om Yentieng said. “When Funcinpec told the CPP that Ta Prohm radio station does not reflect what Funcinpec wants, I wanted to laugh.”
Om Yentieng said the offending radio program was a call-in show hosted by Noranarith Anandayath, but did not give more details.
He denied the CPP was using the issue as a pretext to stall the negotiation process.
Political analysts on Tuesday stressed the need for negotiations to continue.
“We have great regret” about the CPP’s latest move, said Koul Panha, director of the Committee for Free and Fair Elections.
“They should be mature. They must keep negotiating,” he said. “I think they are still playing the game of politics, but as voters, we don’t want them to play…. We are concerned about the future of Cambodia’s politics and economy.”
Chea Vannath, president for the Center for Social Development, said the CPP’s call for Noranarith Anandayath’s removal was “very unreasonable.”
“It’s so finicky,” she said, adding that she was concerned the CPP’s demands threatened press freedom in Cambodia.
“I fear the freedom of the press, radio and television, especially, is…going backward,” she said.