VIPs Gather at Pochentong as King Makes Return to Capital

King Norodom Sihanouk re­turned to Phnom Penh for the first time in nearly nine months Monday as politicians prepared to meet for the second round of coa­lition negotiations—discussions the King put in motion. 

Palace officials would not say how long the King would stay in the capital, but the dean of the Na­tional Assembly, Ing Kieth (Funcinpec), said the monarch was “perhaps on his way” to getting medical checkups in Beijing.

The King was reportedly asked by senior government officials late last week to delay a trip to Beijing planned for Monday. The King’s departure would have left the country without a head of state at a time when the parties represented in parliament are trying to form a new government.

Diplomats and politicians said they were told the King wanted his arrival in the capital to be low-key. And so the list to get on the tarmac and welcome the King at Pochentong Airport was one of the most exclusive in town. Only five people—two of whom were not even in the country— were allowed to greet the monarch, leaving a host of Funcinpec members mopping sweat off their brows outside the gates of the airport’s VIP section.

Second Prime Minister Hun Sen, CPP President Chea Sim, Fun­­cinpec President Prince No­ro­dom Ranariddh, opposition par­ty leader Sam Rainsy and First Prime Minister Ung Huot were on the approved list, said Nuy Nath, a traffic police officer at the airport.

Prince Ranariddh is still in Bang­kok and Sam Rainsy is in New York City.

Ing Kieth was one of several politicians who blustered his way past the guards.

“I am the deputy prime minister. Who can prohibit me from going in?” Ing Kieth told startled police before pushing the gate open for himself and Prince Siso­wath Sirirath, Cambodia’s former ambassador to the UN.

Military police also stopped co-Minister of the Interior You Hock­ry’s car before the senior Fun­cinpec member waved his hand and sent his driver—and police—moving.

Outside, Funcinpec Secretary-General Tol Lah braved the heat for about 20 minutes, then left before the King arrived. Bat­tam­bang parliamentarian Mu So­chua was among a group of Fun­cinpec advisers who waited until 11 am to greet the King and his wife, Queen Norodom Moni­neath, as they drove out of the VIP section and to the Royal Palace.

Chea Sim’s car followed behind with honorary CPP president and former prime minister Heng Samrin, CPP treasurer Chea Soth and CPP parliamentarian for Ratanakkiri and former defense minister Bou Thong.

Politicians on Monday said they were not sure what affect the King’s return would have on ne­go­tiations for a coalition government. Since the polls, the Fun­cinpec and Sam Rainsy parties have refused to form a coalition government with the winning CPP. The King presided over talks between the three parties in Siem Reap last month before the National Assembly was sworn in on Sept 24.

“It is very difficult to say what the King’s presence will have on talks,” Heng Samrin said. “We will have to wait and see.”

The palace could not be reached to discuss the King’s up­coming schedule, but an adviser to Chea Sim said the King plans to meet the CPP president in the next few days.

Ing Kieth said he hoped the King would be a positive influence on the coalition talks. “I think the King can help get things started,” he said. “We want to go over the issues that were discussed with His Ma­jesty in the meeting in Siem Reap.”

In a statement from New York, Sam Rainsy blasted alleged political maneuvering to keep the King in Cambodia when he may have health concerns.

“No one should attempt to co­erce the King to involve himself in the process of forming a government more deeply than he freely desires or the Constitution specifies,” the statement said.

It added, “The King should not be threatened by the specter of arranged “instability” or by possible accusations against him.”

The King has a reported history of medical ailments, including colon cancer. (Additional reporting by Khuy Sokhoeun)

, for which he is re­cei­ving treatment. He was last in the capital from Dec 3, 1997, until Jan 5.

(Additional reporting by Khuy Sokhoeun)




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