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Tuesday, March 17, 1998 Published at 11:41 GMT


Second Prince Ranariddh trial opens in Cambodia
image: [ A defence lawyer's position and dock stand empty during Prince Ranariddh's second trial in absentia ]
A defence lawyer's position and dock stand empty during Prince Ranariddh's second trial in absentia

The second trial of Cambodia's deposed First Prime Minister, Prince Norodom Ranariddh, has opened in the capital, Phnom Penh. The Prince and three of his aides face charges of endangering national security and colluding with the outlawed guerrilla group, the Khmer Rouge. Caroline Gluck reports from Phnom Penh that although the outcome of the latest trial is widely predicted, there is less certainty that the Prince will receive a royal pardon.

As the trial opened, the military court in Phnom Penh was once again packed with military officials, journalists and human rights workers. But few of those attending doubt that the court verdict will be anything other than guilty.

The government has insisted for months that it was the Prince's courtship of the Khmer Rouge that forced it to take military action in July to prevent the country falling into the hands of anarchic forces.

Less than two weeks ago the Prince, who was ousted from power by his rival co-premier, Hun Sen, in July, was given a five-year prison term after he was convicted by the military court on weapons smuggling charges. But he still lives in self-imposed exile in Bangkok.

The Prince could face a sentence ranging from twenty years to life imprisonment, but has not offered any defence, saying the proceedings are politically motivated.

Three of the Prince's supporters face similar charges, including one who was verified by United Nations human rights workers as having been executed following the July fighting.

More than 20 witnesses will give evidence at the hearing but the trial itself is not expected to last beyond two days at the most.

Amnesty would enable return for elections

Exactly what happens afterwards is still unclear. Under a Japanese peace proposal the Prince would receive a royal amnesty after a close family member requests one, paving the way for him to return to Cambodia for the forthcoming elections.

But the granting of an amnesty is still not guaranteed. This week the country's monarch, King Norodom Sihanouk, announced that he would not grant such a pardon without the written approval of the country's two prime ministers. Earlier this month he referred to the Japanese peace plan as naive.

However, many foreign countries are saying that without the return of the Prince, the July polls cannot be regarded as free or fair.

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