PHNOM PENH, Cambodia (AP) — In the sharpest confrontation of Prince Norodom Ranariddh’s return from exile, hundreds of his supporters and opponents battled with rocks and sticks Wednesday while riot police struggled to keep them apart.
After nine months of exile, Ranariddh returned to Cambodia on Monday to prepare for July 26 elections, called by Hun Sen in a bid to legitimize his power and restore foreign aid cut off after the coup.
Intermittent clashes erupted throughout the day near the Hotel Le Royal where the prince is staying.
Ranariddh acknowledged that there are many obstacles to holding free elections: His royalist party has only 14 provincial offices, compared with several thousand party offices belonging to Hun Sen’s Cambodian People’s Party. It has no access to the media, and no helicopters for countryside campaigning.
The main thing needed to ensure that elections are credible is international monitors, he said.
Ranariddh has vehemently denied accusations by Hun Sen’s camp that he himself had been plotting to seize sole power with the help of the Khmer Rouge.
Last month, under a complicated Japanese-brokered plan, Ranariddh was convicted of plotting a coup with the Khmer Rouge and of arms smuggling. His father, King Norodom Sihanouk, then pardoned him, enabling him to return to run in the elections.
Hun Sen’s accusations against Ranariddh are widely seen as an attempt to discredit his most formidable opponent. Ranariddh won elections sponsored by the United Nations in 1993, but Hun Sen forced his way into a coalition government by threatening civil war.