Princes exchange blame after Cambodia's coalition government collapses Alliance still likely, U.N. observers say

June 05, 1993|By New York Times News Service

PHNOM PENH, Cambodia -- Struggling to explain how his coalition government had collapsed only hours after its creation, Prince Norodom Sihanouk made clear yesterday that he placed the blame for the debacle on his son, 49, the leader of the opposition political party that won last week's elections.

U.N. peacekeepers said it was still likely that Prince Sihanouk, Cambodia's ceremonial head of state and its former monarch, would form some sort of coalition government.

But Cambodians who had long heard rumors of strains in the royal family watched anxiously as progress toward peace threatened to dissolve into a family squabble pitting father against son, brother against brother.

Thursday, Prince Sihanouk, 70, announced that he had formed a coalition of the royalist opposition party led by his son, Prince Norodom Ranariddh, and the incumbent, Vietnamese-installed government of Prime Minister Hun Sen.

Mr. Hun Sen's political party, the Cambodian People's Party, came in second to the royalists in last week's elections, the centerpiece of a U.N. peacekeeping operation intended to end Cambodia's 14-year civil war.

Voters selected 120 members of the National Assembly, which will be responsible for writing a new constitution. It was not clear whether Prince Sihanouk's coalition government would have shared power with, turned over power to or usurped power from the National Assembly -- an uncertainty that worried U.N. officials.

Apparently sensing that it was his best chance to retain power after his party's defeat, Mr. Hun Sen publicly embraced the coalition and announced that he had dissolved his government and turned over state powers to Prince Sihanouk.

But within hours, the new government fell apart. Prince Sihanouk, who is the most popular political figure in his Cambodia, blamed his son and asked the forgiveness of the Cambodian people "for abandoning the establishment of the national government."

While he said Thursday that his son had agreed unconditionally to join the coalition, aides to Prince Ranariddh said he had not been fully briefed until after his father had made the deal public.

Officials of Prince Ranariddh's party -- FUNCINPEC, the National United Front for an Independent, Neutral, Peaceful and Cooperative Cambodia -- said they were especially disturbed by the power-sharing arrangements that would have made Prince Ranariddh and Mr. Hun Sen both deputy prime ministers with equivalent powers.

"Some people do not understand why Hun Sen, who was rejected by the people in the election, is associated with Ranariddh on an equal footing," said Sam Rainsy, a senior royalist party official.

There had long been rumblings suggesting serious divisions between father and son, but it was not until yesterday that solid evidence of discord emerged. Neither Prince Sihanouk nor Prince Ranariddh was seen in public yesterday, although their letters to each other surfaced in Phnom Penh.

Prince Sihanouk appears to have been so angered by his son's rebuff that he canceled a meeting today of the Supreme National Council, which was formed as part of the peace efforts and includes representatives from the Hun Sen government and Cambodia's three rebel factions.

He said in a letter to his son that he had organized the interim government only to "avoid a bloody conflict" that might result from the elections.

The prince said the parties led by Prince Ranariddh and Mr. Hun Sen would now be responsible for any "bloodshed or tragedy that befalls our unfortunate country and our unhappy people."

Prince Ranariddh, a French-educated political scientist, was reported to be in Thailand. In a letter to his father, he told his "very venerated papa" that while he accepted the concept of "national reconciliation," it would be impossible to work with "killers" in Mr. Hun Sen's party who were responsible for the assassination of several royalist party members during the election campaign.

He said, too, that he could not work with his estranged half-brother, Prince Norodom Chakrapong, another son of Prince Sihanouk's, who is a deputy prime minister in Mr. Hun Sen's government.

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