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Cablegate: King Sihanouk Announces "Retirement"

O 070849Z OCT 04
FM AMEMBASSY PHNOM PENH
TO SECSTATE WASHDC IMMEDIATE 3020
INFO ASEAN MEMBER COLLECTIVE
AMEMBASSY BEIJING
AMEMBASSY PARIS

C O N F I D E N T I A L PHNOM PENH 001578


DEPARTMENT FOR EAP/BCLTV

E.O. 12958: DECL: 10/06/2014
TAGS: PGOV CB
SUBJECT: KING SIHANOUK ANNOUNCES "RETIREMENT"

Classified By: Ambassador Charles A. Ray. Reason: 1.4 (b) (d).

1. (C) Summary. In a message from Beijing, King Sihanouk
announced October 6 his desire to retire due to his ill
health. His message referred to a letter from PM Hun Sen and
Prince Ranariddh endorsing as his successor Prince Sihamoni,
son of Sihanouk and Queen Monineath. On October 7, he
instructed acting Head of State Chea Sim not to refer any
decisions to him as he was retired as of that date.
Opposition leader Sam Rainsy told the Ambassador that Prince
Ranariddh had made veiled threats to him in the National
Assembly October 7, blaming him for King Sihanouk's actions.
Rainsy had sent a letter to the King a day earlier requesting
that the King not return to Cambodia as scheduled on October
7 because the government would organize demonstrations
against the King. Rainsy said he was concerned about a
"coup", but that he did not feel personally threatened. The
royalist FUNCINPEC party is taking the King's actions
seriously, although a senior FUNCINPEC leader suggested that
Ranariddh was fed up with Rainsy and was "out to get him."
Ranariddh suggested that it might be possible to get the King
to change his mind; A CPP official agreed. Given Sihanouk's
track record over the years of threatening to leave the
stage, but always coming back for an encore, we are somewhat
skeptical of his determination this time. End Summary.

2. (U) In a message from Beijing dated October 6, King
Sihanouk requested that be allowed to retire. He said that
he was ill with a new stomach ailment and that he was
"physically and intellectually weak." His message referred to
a September 4 letter to him from PM Hun Sen and National
Assembly President Prince Ranariddh endorsing Prince Norodom
Sihamoni as his successor, but noted that ultimately it is up
to the Royal Throne Council to select a successor. In an
October 7 message the King requested that acting Head of
State Chea Sim not refer any decisions to him, as he was
retired as of this date.

3. (C) On October 7, Opposition leader Sam Rainsy asked to
see the Ambassador urgently. Rainsy told the Ambassador that
in the morning session of the National Assembly Ranariddh had
made veiled threats against him, suggesting that he was
responsible for the King's "abdication" because of his letter
to the King. Rainsy's letter the previous day asked the King
to delay his scheduled October 7 return to Cambodia because,
Rainsy claimed, a reliable source had informed Rainsy that
there would be government-organized demonstrations against
the King upon his arrival. The King subsequently delayed his
return to Cambodia. Rainsy claimed that Ranariddh said the
situation could get out of control and that Ranariddh
commented that politicians should have been careful as their
actions could have serious consequences. However, a senior
FUNCINPEC official told us that he believed Rainsy had made
up the story about demonstrations against the King on his
arrival.

4. (C) Rainsy said he "could not exclude the possibility of
a coup," although he did not say who would carry out this
coup, except to suggest that it could consolidate power in
one man's hands. Rainsy said that he did not feel in
personal danger at the moment, but that the situation could
deteriorate. The Ambassador urged Rainsy to take steps to
remove himself from danger if he felt threatened. He also
urged that all parties remain calm and peaceful. The SRP
issued a statement later in the day calling for calm. PM Hun
Sen left Phnom Penh today for Hanoi to attend the ASEM.

5. (C) Officials in the royalist FUNCINPEC party are taking
the King's resignation/abdication seriously, although so far
most of the evidence confirming that it is real ultimately
leads back to Prince Ranariddh. Deputy Prime Minister Lu Lay
Sreng, an influential FUNCINPEC leader, told the Ambassador
October 7 that he did not expect any violence, but that he
believed both Ranariddh and Hun Sen are "fed up" with Sam
Rainsy and are "out to get him." (Note: Ranariddh and Sam
Rainsy are involved in messy counter-suits, Ranariddh's
alleging libel and Rainsy's alleging that Ranariddh tried to
have him killed. Ranariddh has threatened to have Rainsy's
parliamentary immunity lifted so he can be prosecuted.)

6. (C) Ranariddh suggested that it might be possible to get
the King to reverse his decision. He commented at the
National Assembly that the King might change his mind in a
day or two. He later said parliamentarians would sign a
petition asking the King to stay on. The Director of the CPP
cabinet, Thep Ngorn, commented to us that the best course of
action would be for the two coalition parties to convince the
King to change his mind, as he has done in the past.

7. (C) In terms of succession, if the King's decision holds,
the nine-member Royal Throne Council has the Constitutional
authority to decide the successor. However, the procedures
for doing so have not been adopted by the National Assembly.
If the issue were decided by a vote, PM Hun Sen would hold
the tie-breaking vote if he and Ranariddh disagree on who it
should be. By our count four of the members are loyal to Hun
Sen and four are loyal to Ranariddh, including Ranariddh
himself, who is a member based on his Presidency of the
National Assembly. Prince Sihamoni has been the King's
choice for some time and Ranariddh has endorsed him, as did
Hun Sen in the September 4 letter released by Sihanouk.

8. (C) Comment: Given Sihanouk's track record of threats to
resign, which extend back decades, we regard these most
recent actions with some skepticism. However, many
Cambodians appear to be taking Sihanouk's statements
seriously. It is quite possible that a series of entreaties
from political actors will lead Sihanouk to reconsider, or
that he intended his messages to create an outpouring of
support from the Cambodian people that would "force" him to
stay on the throne. It is also possible that Ranariddh has
been using the King's statements as a weapon to attack Sam
Rainsy with whom he has long-standing animosity. We will see
how this plays out in coming days.

Ray

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