Opposition officials said Mon-day that there is not enough time to hold a coalition summit in Phnom Penh before King Norodom Sihanouk leaves the country Friday, saying they still want talks in Beijing.
Although Funcinpec President Prince Norodom Ranariddh has not officially rejected his father’s last-ditch effort to hold a summit in Cambodia, opposition officials’ statements made it seem unlikely.
“The decision is clear,” senior Funcinpec official Prince Sisowath Sirirath said Monday. “Due to the time constraints needed to prepare the agenda for discussions, it is much better if his royal highness [Prince Ranariddh] has the meeting under the presidency of the King outside of Cambodia.”
The monarch over the weekend offered his personal bodyguards and palace protection for opposition leaders if they agreed to return for a summit to negotiate a new government to pull the country out of political limbo.
But the King stipulated that any meeting in Cambodia would have to take place before Friday, when he is scheduled to leave for medical treatment in Beijing.
CPP spokesman Khieu Kanharith scoffed Monday at Prince Sirirath’s time constraint reasoning, saying it shows the opposition is not serious about breaking the deadlock. “It is not a surprise that they try to find another pretext,” he said.
Prince Ranariddh and Sam Rainsy left the country in September, citing security concerns after a top-level summit in Siem Reap failed to yield a coalition deal.
Both have refused to return until the holdover CPP-dominated government can guarantee their safety.
A Monday statement from the Sam Rainsy Party also concluded that the time period was too short to organize a summit. The party said a meeting in the Chinese capital would be preferable.
“Given that the King must, under doctor’s orders, travel to Beijing in a few days, we would prefer that a summit take place in Beijing where all parties can discuss the issues without fear of coercion,” the Sam Rainsy Party said.
Still, the party did not rule out a summit in Cambodia.
It said in the statement that it would try to take the same view as Funcinpec on that issue.
Prince Ranariddh himself has yet to officially respond to the offer, Funcinpec spokesman May Sam-Oeun insisted Monday.
“There is no change,” he said, when asked if the party had rejected a summit in Phnom Penh.
“We have not yet heard from the prince [Ranariddh].”
Prince Sirirath added that the King’s weekend comments still left a window of opportunity for a Beijing summit, provided the Chinese government agreed.
“We want the meeting to be successful. A lot of time is needed to prepare it,” the Funcinpec negotiator said.
The CPP is insisting the meeting be held in Cambodia. The party won the most National Assembly seats in last July’s national elections but still lacks a majority to rule alone.
Second Prime Minister Hun Sen sent a letter to the King on Sunday indicating support for the monarch’s gesture to provide security for a summit.