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Cambodian King Won’t Pardon Son

March 21, 1998

PHNOM PENH, Cambodia (AP) _ Cambodia’s King Norodom Sihanouk refused today to pardon his exiled son for conspiring to overthrow the government, derailing a Japanese-brokered plan to allow the son’s return home.

Sihanouk said a pardon would further damage the already weakened Cambodian monarchy, and would prompt angry demonstrations and further criticism from Cambodian leader Hun Sen.

``Papa has no ability to help brothers or sons or to find justice for you,″ Sihanouk said in a letter to his son, Prince Norodom Ranariddh. The letter was seen by The Associated Press today.

Ranariddh, ousted from Cambodia’s shaky ruling coalition by counterpart Hun Sen in a vicious coup in July, is living in exile in Bangkok, Thailand.

Without a pardon from Sihanouk, Ranariddh cannot compete in elections scheduled for July 26 _ his only hope for re-entering Cambodia’s political fray.

Ranariddh is the only real threat to Hun Sen’s rule, and if the prince is blocked from returning to Cambodia that would allow Hun Sen to further consolidate his power.

Sihanouk, who is underdoing medical treatment in Beijing, where he has been living in self-imposed exile, said in an interview published today in his monthly bulletin that he would resist international pressure to pardon Ranariddh.

Hun Sen has publicly criticized the king and called for banning members of the royal family from politics unless they give up their royal status.

Vibol Kong, a spokesman for Ranariddh, said, ``The prince is disappointed with Hun Sen, but not with the king.″

Ranariddh was convicted in absentia Wednesday of conspiring with outlawed Khmer Rouge guerrillas to grab power. He was sentenced to 30 years in jail and fined $54 million.

The charges were widely viewed as politically motivated.

Most Western countries cut off aid to Hun Sen’s already cash-strapped government to protest the coup. In an effort to win back aid and legitimacy, Hun Sen promised elections this July. Ranariddh’s participation is regarded as essential for the polls to be legitimate.

Convicted criminals are not eligible to compete in Cambodian elections.

Japanese diplomats worked out a plan earlier this month in which Ranariddh would be tried in absentia. If convicted, he would be granted a pardon by King Sihanouk and then would return for the election.

But the plan was thrown into doubt earlier this week when Sihanouk said he needed written permission from Hun Sen before pardoning his son. Hun Sen, however, said Friday that the decision was solely Sihanouk’s.

Officials at the Japanese Foreign Ministry in Tokyo were unavailable for comment today.

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