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Cablegate: Pm Hun Sen Announces Pardon, Paving the Way For

VZCZCXRO7836
PP RUEHCHI RUEHDT RUEHHM RUEHNH
DE RUEHPF #0789 2660119
ZNR UUUUU ZZH
P 220119Z SEP 08
FM AMEMBASSY PHNOM PENH
TO RUEHC/SECSTATE WASHDC PRIORITY 9930
INFO RUCNASE/ASEAN MEMBER COLLECTIVE

UNCLAS PHNOM PENH 000789

SENSITIVE
SIPDIS

DEPARTMENT FOR EAP/MLS AND DRL

E.O. 12958: N/A
TAGS: PGOV PHUM PREL KDEM CB
SUBJECT: PM HUN SEN ANNOUNCES PARDON, PAVING THE WAY FOR
EXILED PRINCE RANARIDDH'S RETURN

1. (U) Summary: Prime Minister Hun Sen's September 17
announcement that he would seek a pardon for Prince Norodom
Ranariddh paves the way for the self-imposed exiled Prince to
return to Cambodia. The NRP decision to recognize the July
general election results is paying dividends, not only for
Ranariddh but also for the NRP. The last remaining Cambodian
leader-in-exile is expected to return as early as September
26. End Summary.

A Pardon is Promised
--------------------

2. (SBU) On September 17 Prime Minister Hun Sen announced
that Prince Norodom Ranariddh, President of the Norodom
Ranariddh Party (NRP), could return to Cambodia without
facing the 18 month prison sentence imposed in March of 2007.
The statement follows an announcement last week that Hun Sen
had given Ranariddh the "green light" to return home from his
thirty months of self-imposed exile in Malaysia. Ranariddh
was convicted in abstentia for breach of trust related to the
sale of FUNCINPEC property in 2006. (Note: The case against
Ranariddh is intertwined with the party coup against him
engineered in October 2006 by erstwhile co-party member now
FUNCINPEC Secretary General Nhiek Bun Chhay. End Note.)

3. (SBU) According to NRP Spokesman Suth Dina, Ranariddh is
expected to return by September 29, possibly as early as the
26th. Hun Sen indicated that the RGC would request a pardon
for Ranariddh to be signed by King Norodom Sihamoni, in order
to facilitate Ranariddh's return later this month. Sources
could not say what Ranariddh's plans are upon his return.
Suth Dina informed emboff that Hun Sen's government invited
the two NRP National Assembly members-elect to serve on
National Assembly Committees.

Will Ranariddh Stay in Politics?
--------------------------------

4. (SBU) Despite earlier rumors that Ranariddh planned to
withdraw from politics upon his eventual return, Suth Dina
affirmed to emboff September 19 that Ranariddh is committed
to remaining in politics. However, Om Weakchiravuth, Deputy
Director of the Cabinet of His Majesty the King, told emboff
that both the King father and PM Hun Sen favor a prohibition
on royal family participation in politics. Om speculated
that legislation to this effect may be the subject of
negotiations taking place between Ranariddh and Hun Sen. Om
also told emboff that a CPP rumor was afloat that the two NRP
and two FUNCINPEC members-elect would join to form a single
party following Ranariddh's retirement from the politics.

5. (SBU) Comment: While initially joining with the Sam
Rainsy Party (SRP) and the Human Rights Party in rejecting
the election results, the NRP later reversed itself and
recognized the results. (Note: The NRP won two seats in the
recent election, dramatically down from their 26 seats in
2003. End Note.) Ranariddh's return appears to be a quid pro
quo for NRP's recognition of the results. In fact, in the
same breath that he announced the pardon, Hun Sen boasted of
the success of his divide and conquer strategy against the
opposition. While it is anyone's guess as to whether
Ranariddh will continue to play a direct role in Cambodian
politics, our bet is that it may be difficult for a political
creature like Ranariddh to withdraw entirely from the
political stage. End Comment.
CAMPBELL

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