Sihanouk names self Cambodia leader, but feud with son causes him to retract

June 04, 1993|By New York Times News Service

PHNOM PENH, Cambodia -- Prince Norodom Sihanouk, Cambodia's former monarch, announced yesterday that he had formed a coalition government in which he would serve as prime minister and supreme military commander, only to abandon the plan this morning in the midst of what appears to be a long-running family psychodrama pitting the prince against one of his sons.

The son, Prince Norodom Ranariddh, had originally been named deputy prime minister in the newly proclaimed National Government of Cambodia.

In a proclamation to the nation yesterday, Prince Sihanouk said he had formed the coalition after receiving the agreement of the political parties led by both Prince Ranariddh and the incumbent, Vietnamese-installed government of Prime Minister Hun Sen.

But in statements released this morning, Prince Sihanouk asked for the forgiveness of his people and said that his new government had collapsed because of "big difficulties in implementing the formula."

He said his son's political party, known as FUNCINPEC, and the political party of Mr. Hun Sen would now be responsible for "any tragedy inflicted on this unfortunate nation." FUNCINPEC had won last week's U.N.-sponsored elections, the centerpiece of a $2 billion United Nations peacekeeping plan meant to end Cambodia's 14-year-old civil war.

Senior U.N. peacekeepers said today that the idea of a coalition government with Prince Sihanouk as its leader had apparently not been abandoned. But they said it could be days or weeks before Prince Sihanouk could win over his 49-year-old son to enter the a government.

There had long been rumors that father and son had serious disagreements. But those differences had never before been aired publicly.

Prince Sihanouk was toppled in a 1970 coup led by his hand-picked prime minister, Gen. Lon Nol, whose American-backed government was brought down five years later the Khmer Rouge, the Maoist-inspired rebels who were subsequently responsible for a reign of terror.

Although the prince had no sympathy with the Khmer Rouge, he agreed to serve as head of state when they captured Cambodia, but he was soon forced into house arrest. After Vietnam crushed the Khmer Rouge, he emerged as the leader of the non-Communist opposition to the Vietnamese-dominated government in Phnom Penh.

The new coalition worked out by Prince Sihanouk is made up of Mr. Hun Sen's political party and the royalist party founded by the prince and now led by Prince Ranariddh.

The royalist party -- the National United Front for an Independent, Neutral, Peaceful and Cooperative Cambodia -- won last week's U.N.-sponsored elections to select the members of a new National Assembly. But rather than wait for the assembly to choose a new government, Prince Sihanouk moved adroitly to get Mr. Hun Sen to agree to accept the results of the elections, after his government had threatened earlier in the week not to do so.

The major uncertainty concerns the Khmer Rouge. They refused to take part in the elections, and for a while threatened to disrupt them with violence.

Although spokesmen for Mr. Hun Sen said the new government would lead Cambodia only until a new National Assembly is seated this summer, Prince Sihanouk's proclamation of the coalition did not include the words temporary or provisional.

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