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Monday, 23 March, 1998, 13:11 GMT
Prince Ranariddh to return to Cambodia
As many as two million were butched by the Khmer Rouge
Khmer Rouge legacy still haunts Cambodia
Advisers to Prince Norodom Ranariddh say he is to end nine months of exile and return to Cambodia on March 30, but have raised concerns over his safety.

Prince Ranariddh: to return on March 30
Prince Ranariddh
Prince Ranariddh was deposed as co-prime minister last July by his rival, Hun Sen, and later convicted in two show trials before being granted a royal pardon last Saturday.

The prince and his advisers are meeting Japanese and US officials in the Thai capital, Bangkok, to arrange details of his return.

His participation in Cambodian elections on July 26 is considered a litmus test of whether they are free and fair, commentators say.

Vibol Kong, an adviser, told reporters outside the prince's Bangkok residence that he would return March 30, and an advance team would travel to Cambodia on Wednesday.

Safety fears

Ly Thuch, Prince Ranariddh's chief of staff, has said that safety concerns are paramount.

Elaborate show trials organised
Elaborate show trials organised
Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen controls Phnom Penh, the police and the army. His followers have been accused of killing at least 43 Ranariddh supporters in the coup.

Ly Thuch said he hoped US congressmen would accompany Prince Ranariddh on his return flight to offer symbolic protection.

Once in Cambodia, the prince needs "security personnel from friendly countries, such as Thailand and Japan and possibly the United Nations," Ly Thuch said. "This is what we wish for."

Hun Sen's coup shattered his tense co-premiership with Prince Ranariddh that followed UN-organised elections in 1993.

Foreign aid cut off

Hun Sen: Cambodia's strongman
Hun Sen: Cambodia's strongman
Hun Sen has called new elections to win back legitimacy and to encourage donor nations to resume foreign aid that was cut off after the coup, commentators say.

Under a complex Japanese plan, Prince Ranariddh was convicted in two show trials this month on Hun Sen's accusations that he was smuggling arms and plotting his own coup with Khmer Rouge guerrillas.

The prince was sentenced to 35 years imprisonment. Hun Sen then gave Prince Ranariddh's father, King Norodom Sihanouk, approval to issue a royal pardon for the prince, enabling him to return home without the threat of jail.

Remaining challenges include registering voters, setting up polling stations, and arranging the return of some 50,000 refugees who have fled to Thailand to escape fighting between Hun Sen's army and Ranariddh loyalists, loosely allied with remnants of the Khmer Rouge.

Khmer Rouge involvement

Part of the plan calls for Prince Ranariddh to sever all links with the Khmer Rouge, which caused the deaths of as many as 2,000,000 Cambodians when it ruled between 1975 and 1979.

The Maoist-inspired movement broke apart in 1996. Both Hun Sen and Ranariddh competed for the loyalty of different factions to boost their respective military strengths.

In a radio broadcast, the Khmer Rouge said it will boycott the election, which it insists will be neither free nor fair, and urged Prince Ranariddh to follow suit.

See also:

27 Feb 98 | Asia-Pacific
Ceasefire called in Cambodia
17 Mar 98 | Asia-Pacific
Cambodia appeals for election cash
04 Mar 98 | Asia-Pacific
Former Cambodian PM found guilty
02 Mar 98 | Asia-Pacific
Amnesty warns of Cambodian killings
22 Mar 98 | Asia-Pacific
Ranariddh pardon 'important first step'
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