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Talks Fail, Cambodia Prince Leaves

May 16, 1998

PHNOM PENH, Cambodia (AP) _ Peace negotiations aimed at cementing a cease-fire broke down Friday, 20 minutes after government officials and troops loyal to Cambodia’s deposed co-premier sat down to talk.

The meeting was called to reintegrate forces loyal to Prince Norodom Ranariddh into the army and to pave the way for the prince to participate in July 26 elections.

Hours after the meeting broke up, Ranariddh left for Bangkok, Thailand, where he has been living in exile. He gave no reason for his departure, but aides denied that it was linked to the break in the talks.

``I’m a free man,″ Ranariddh told reporters. ``This is my country. I have the right to go and I have the right to come.″

Cambodian strongman Hun Sen staged a bloody coup last year against Ranariddh, deposing him as co-prime minister and smashing their tense coalition formed after U.N.-sponsored polls in 1993.

Troops loyal to the prince continued to wage a guerrilla fight until Ranariddh returned to Cambodia in March. Hun Sen yielded to international pressure to include him in the national elections he hopes will restore the international aid and legitimacy he lost in the coup.

But the peace process has apparently stumbled on Hun Sen’s refusal to pardon the prince’s top general, Nhek Bunchhay, who has threatened to keep fighting and incorporate hundreds of Khmer Rouge guerrillas under his command.

The Khmer Rouge have dwindled to a few hundred guerrillas pressed against the Thai border by a government offensive over the past several weeks. The Maoist-inspired revolutionaries caused the deaths of as many as 2 million people when they ruled between 1975 and 1979.

Meanwhile, the European Union announced it will send observers to Cambodian provinces this weekend to help assess whether upcoming elections will be free and fair.

``A code of conduct based on European election systems will be printed and distributed to observers, but not to the press,″ said EU envoy Sven Linder.

Opposition parties accuse Hun Sen of stacking the electoral process in his favor and using violence, including the murder of opposition party workers.

Update hourly