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Monday, March 30, 1998 Published at 06:39 GMT 07:39 UK

World: Asia-Pacific

Cambodia's Ranariddh returns
image: [ Prince Ranariddh and his wife Marie wave at well-wishers ]
Prince Ranariddh and his wife Marie wave at well-wishers

Prince Norodom Ranariddh, Cambodia's deposed first prime minister, has returned home on Monday after almost nine months in exile in Thailand - despite fears for his personal safety.

[ image: Hun Sen: seeking legitimacy through elections]
Hun Sen: seeking legitimacy through elections
On his arrival he said he wanted to meet the man who drove him from power last year, the second prime minister Hun Sen.

Prince Ranariddh wants to work with his opponents (0'28')
He added that he wants to cooperate with Hun Sen's party to bring about fair and credible elections later this year.

The BBC's South-East Asia correspondent, Simon Ingram, says it's not clear whether Hun Sen will reciprocate, given that he only agreed to allow Prince Ranariddh back under pressure from the international community.

BBC correspondent Simon Ingram describes the scene at Prince Ranariddh's homecoming (0'43')
Prince Ranariddh will be in the capital, Phnom Penh, for at least four days to prepare for a general election on July 26.

But the killing of one of the prince's supporters on Saturday night has increased fears for his own safety. Security around the airport was heavy, and only a few hundred supporters were allowed to greet him.

Lt Col Chea Vutha was shot dead after leaving the headquarters of the royalist FUNCINPEC party.

The motive for the attack is not yet known.

After Prince Ranariddh was ousted by his co-prime minister Hun Sen last July at least 43 of the prince's supporters were murdered.

[ image: Tanks in the streets in July 1997 coup]
Tanks in the streets in July 1997 coup
Hun Sen then initiated plans for democratic elections to gain legitimacy and lure back foreign aid lost after the violent coup.

Under a complicated Japanese peace plan, Prince Ranariddh agreed to a trial in absentia as long as he received a pardon and was allowed to return to Cambodia to stand in July's elections.

Former US congressman Stephen Solarz: Looking forward to free elections (0'16')
The prince was sentenced to 35 years in jail by a military court on charges of weapons smuggling and attempting to topple the coalition government by colluding with the Khmer Rouge.

He was pardoned ten days ago by his father, King Norodom Sihanouk, and given permission to come back to Cambodia.

No pardon for 'war criminals'

Further complications stand in the way of Prince Ranariddh's political comeback, involving his two senior military commanders.

Two of Prince Ranariddh's co-defendants - his senior commander, Gen Nhek Bunchay, and former security adviser Serey Kosal - have not been pardoned.

He may soon face the choice of severing his ties with them or risk being disqualified from taking part in the elections.

On Sunday, Hun Sen effectively rejected a proposed amnesty for the two leaders of his armed resistance movement based in northern Cambodia calling them "war criminals".

A BBC correspondent in Phnom Penh says that Hun Sen is taking full advantage of political and military gains since he ousted Ranariddh.

In the jungles close to the Thai border, his forces have launched a major push against his leading military allies the Khmer Rouge forcing thousands of civilians to flee for their lives.

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