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Cablegate: Prince Ranariddh: Will He Get Amnesty and Return

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OO RUEHCHI RUEHDT RUEHHM RUEHNH
DE RUEHPF #0751/01 1550505
ZNR UUUUU ZZH
O 040505Z JUN 07
FM AMEMBASSY PHNOM PENH
TO RUEHC/SECSTATE WASHDC IMMEDIATE 8500
INFO RUCNASE/ASEAN MEMBER COLLECTIVE PRIORITY

UNCLAS SECTION 01 OF 03 PHNOM PENH 000751

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STATE FOR EAP/MLS

E.O. 12958: N/A
TAGS: PGOV KDEM CB
SUBJECT: PRINCE RANARIDDH: WILL HE GET AMNESTY AND RETURN
TO CAMBODIA?

1. (SBU) Summary. Following a March 13 court verdict
sentencing Prince Norodom Ranariddh to 18 months in prison,
the Prince's followers petitioned the King for a royal pardon
-- even though PM Hun Sen had rejected RGC support for any
pardon in advance of Ranariddh's trial. As backroom
negotiations between Ranariddh's party (NRP), FUNCINPEC, and
the CPP continued, NRP leaders and NGOs blamed Ranariddh's
absence for the NRP's poor third-place showing in the April 1
commune elections. Meanwhile, FUNCINPEC continues to lose
supporters and one of its MPs recently defected to the CPP.
On May 12, a Ranariddh delegation delivered a petition signed
by over 100,000 people to the Royal Palace, and asked King
Sihamoni to pardon the Prince. The King forwarded the
petition to the Prime Minister for an opinion; to date, none
has been forthcoming. End Summary.

Can the Royals Sink Any Lower?
------------------------------

2. (U) Since early 2007, Prince Norodom Ranariddh has
remained outside of Cambodia for fear of imprisonment
following the March 13 Phnom Penh Municipal Court ruling that
found him guilty for a breach of confidence in the sale of
the historical FUNCINPEC party headquarters in Phnom Penh to
a developer in exchange for a new property and construction
of a new building. The lawsuit that generated the
controversy was brought by FUNCINPEC Secretary General Nhek
Bun Chhay following Ranariddh's refusal to accept the loss of
the party presidency in October 2006 and subsequent launch of
the Norodom Ranariddh Party (NRP), which labeled itself as
the "real royalist" party. The sentence of 18 months in
prison was viewed by many as deliberately timed to prevent
the NRP leader from competing in the July 2008 national
elections.

3. (U) Despite its late entry into the April 1 commune
elections, the NRP was able to quickly register candidates in
the majority of Cambodia's 1,600-plus communes, surprising
most observers. The NRP did not win any communes outright,
but did manage to win more seats for its councilors than did
FUNCINPEC, giving NRP loyalists a minor moral victory by
coming in (a very distant) third in the commune elections.
But the NRP's election coffers remain largely empty, royalist
voters in some cases are still confused about whether or not
the Prince is still with FUNCINPEC, and the lack of the
Prince's presence in the country makes the party's job tough
in the lead up to the July 2008 elections. Former FUNCINPEC
MP (and Amcit) You Hockry recently became the NRP's Secretary
General, having publicly denounced the FUNCINPEC party
congress last October that removed Ranariddh as the FUNCINPEC
leader. Following You Hockry's statements, FUNCINPEC removed
him from the party and stripped him of his MP status.

4. (SBU) Meanwhile, the CPP continues to pressure FUNCINPEC
officials to defect to the CPP, with FUNCINPEC MP Ly Thuch
representing the latest defector to the ruling party. Other
FUNCINPEC MPs have told us that they have had similar offers
to leave the party, and one MP predicted there would be
additional defections before the 2008 elections. This same
MP noted he believed that the CPP is going to destroy
FUNCINPEC before the PM will consider allowing Ranariddh to
return; that way, the Prince will never be able to rebuild
the party's structure before the elections should the NRP and
FUNCINPEC merge again. FUNCINPEC has held several meetings
since the April 1 elections, and morale within the party is
low. The MP added that he does not bother attending meetings
anymore because of the poor leadership and lack of direction;
Keo Puth Rasmei has tried to resign twice but Nhek Bun Chhay
and the CPP reportedly will not permit it.

5. (U) Prince Sisowath Thomico, who heads the very small
and noninfluential Sangkum Cheat Niyum (FSCN) party, merged
his party with the NRP on May 27 following a FSCN party
congress. By joining the NRP, Thomico has become the Vice
President of the NRP, and has said that he will work towards
a union of all royalists, followed by an alliance of all
non-ruling parties to face off against the CPP in July 2008.
(Comment: While there have continued to be discussions
between all the so-called democrats about how best to
approach the 2008 elections, only Thomico's party has taken
the decision to merge with another party. The others (NRP,
SRP, Kem Sokha) have spoken more in terms of an alliance of
like-minded parties as opposed to a union into a single
party. End Comment.)

6. (U) FUNCINPEC, however, initially rejected any call to
reunite the royalist parties under the FUNCINPEC banner.
While in Malaysia in late April, Ranariddh said that he would
accept a re-unification of FUNCINPEC and the NRP if FUNCINPEC

PHNOM PENH 00000751 002 OF 003


were willing to concede its error in dismissing him from the
presidency and accept Ranariddh back as the party leader.
Thomico echoed Ranariddh's position, and at the time
announced that his small party would begin the process by
joining with the NRP. FUNCINPEC initially agreed that
Ranariddh could return, but only as historical president -- a
ceremonial title that FUNCINPEC tried to bestow on the Prince
after he was removed as party leader. Ranariddh refused the
honorary position last year and has continued to maintain he
will not accept it. However, FUNCINPEC later released a
statement on May 28 claiming that the party was not
interested in reconciling with the Prince and would not help
Ranariddh win a pardon. (Comment: According to NRP sources,
the CPP put a halt to FUNCINPEC negotiations with Ranariddh
as the ruling party is more concerned with the SRP and the
CPP does not trust Ranariddh to keep his word and return to
FUNCINPEC to work on the party's behalf. In fact, one NRP
official noted that the CPP's mistrust of Ranariddh was
well-founded; the NRP leader reportedly did plan to reconcile
with FUNCINPEC to return to Cambodia, but then planned to
remove Nhek Bun Chhay and others who been disloyal and lead
the party down an independent path -- possibly aligning with
the SRP against the CPP. End Comment.)

Amnesty for Ranariddh? 1998 All Over Again?
--------------------------------------------

7. (SBU) Despite the public stance of FUNCINPEC claiming
that reconciliation with the NRP is no longer of interest to
the party and the CPP's continued rejection of calls for a
pardon for the Prince, negotiations behind the scenes for
Ranariddh's return have been ongoing for the last two months,
claim members of the NRP and FUNCINPEC. Even SRP MP Keo Remy
has been acting as a go-between among the various parties to
help Ranariddh.

8. (U) On May 12, a delegation of NRP representatives met
with King Norodom Sihamoni and presented a petition of over
100,000 thumbprints to the monarch in support of a royal
pardon for Prince Ranariddh. The act of presenting the
petition to the King is viewed as a way of putting the issue
of a royal pardon firmly on the table for negotiation and
public discussion. NRP supporters see a pardon as the only
way for the Prince to return to Cambodia in time to compete
for the July 2008 elections. The King reportedly sent the
petition to Prime Minister Hun Sen for review, but no
official response has been forthcoming. In public comments,
the PM has indicated that he is unlikely to agree to a pardon
for the NRP leader and has asked the NRP to continue to
pursue their case with the Appeals Court. The PM told a
university graduation class on May 30 that a petition of
thumbprints should not override the decision of the judiciary.

9. (U) The NRP has moved ahead with the appeals court
process, according to Ok Socheat, a senior advisor to Prince
Ranariddh. The PM reportedly has tied a favorable outcome in
the judicial process to two conditions: first, the Prince
must remove NRP spokesperson Muth Chantha and second, the
Prince must resolve his dispute with Princess Marie. Muth
Chantha confirmed to the Embassy that Hun Sen had asked that
Chantha be removed, claiming that he told Ranariddh he would
be happy to step down if it helped the party secure
Ranariddh's return. There are also discussions about
Ranariddh ceding a valuable property near the Royal Palace to
FUNCINPEC as a precondition for his return.

10. (SBU) Citing the example of 1998, NRP spokesperson Muth
Chantha told us that the CPP wants Ranariddh to return to
Cambodia, but only in such a way that it does not
disadvantage the CPP in the upcoming national election. The
NRP official is confident that Ranariddh will return, knowing
that the international community and NGOs could cite the
Prince's absence as a reason to discredit the election. He
said that the PM also recognizes this, and Hun Sen wants
Ranariddh to return in time to campaign, but not so soon as
to do any damage to anyone except the other opposition
parties. If Ranariddh were to stay out, many royalists might
flock to the SRP, which took a respectable and unchallenged
second place on April 1. So the CPP will allow Ranariddh
back -- it's only a question of timing, say NRP loyalists.
Chantha noted that the CPP successfully kept Ranariddh out of
Cambodia in the lead up to the 1998 election, only to allow
the Prince to return for the legitimacy of the electoral
process, but too late to mount a strong effort. Chantha
speculated that the Appeals Court is unlikely to hear the
case anytime soon, and that the CPP will bide its time. He
worries that if the Prince does not return before early 2008,
there will be inadequate time to organize an effective
campaign. But Ranariddh's return 5-6 months ahead of the

PHNOM PENH 00000751 003 OF 003


July elections could help split the non-CPP vote, allowed
Chantha.


Comment
-------

11. (SBU) Although there continues to be discussion about
who must sign off on a royal pardon, from a constitutional
standpoint, the King does not need to consult with anyone.
(National Assembly President Heng Samrin recently decided
that in Ranariddh's case, the National Assembly should come
to a two-thirds vote -- a clear misread of the constitution.)
In practice, the King has not initiated a pardon in any
high-profile political case without consultation with Hun
Sen, and he's unlikely to do so this time until the PM gives
the green light. It's still early days in the countdown to
the national election, now scheduled for Sunday, July 27,
2008 with more twists and turns likely for Ranariddh. The
sheer number of meetings and amount of negotiation that have
taken place already on his case is notable -- we contrast
those efforts against the paucity of grassroots party
building activities within FUNCINPEC and the NRP during this
period. For the CPP, we agree that it probably makes the
most sense to keep Ranariddh out of the country (just like
1998) for as long as possible, and then allow him to return
for the elections and play the role of spoiler. We will
continue to advocate to the RGC that Ranariddh be permitted
to return and compete in the elections. End Comment.
MUSSOMELI

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