Sihanouk's deal falls apart: Prince withdraws plan for coalition rule

EVEN by his own standards of inconsistency, yesterday's reversal of position by Prince Norodom Sihanouk was spectacular. Cambodia's flamboyant former ruler, who announced on Thursday that he was forming a coalition government with himself as President, Prime Minister and commander of the police and armed forces, yesterday withdrew the whole idea and took to his sickbed.

Despite the Prince's attempt to bypass the complicated and expensive peace process devised for Cambodia by the United Nations, a UN spokesman was mild yesterday, saying Prince Sihanouk should be at the heart of any solution for the country. There was no doubt, however, that the 70-year-old Prince had thrown away much of his credibility.

On Thursday Prince Sihanouk announced a coalition of the two parties which took most of the votes in last week's UN- supervised poll, the royalist Funcinpec, led by his son, Prince Norodom Ranariddh, and the Cambodian People's Party (CPP), the political vehicle of Hun Sen's government. The two men were to serve under him as joint deputy prime ministers, with each government department being run jointly. This was welcome to Mr Hun Sen, whose party is trailing Funcinpec by around 38 per cent to 45 per cent as the final votes are counted, but it emerged that Prince Sihanouk had not consulted Yasushi Akashi, head of the UN Transitional Authority in Cambodia (Untac), nor kept his son fully informed.

Yesterday Prince Sihanouk said his plan had 'met a large obstacle which prevents me from successfully setting up a new government'. This was Prince Ranariddh's protest that too much was being conceded to the Phnom Penh government, which is accused of intimidation and murder.

There is no love lost between Prince Ranariddh, the product of one of his father's previous marriages, and Sihanouk's present consort, Monique.

Prince Ranariddh, 49, pointed out the dubious legality of Prince Sihanouk's move. Under the UN plan, the assembly being elected will have three months to draw up a new constitution before forming a permanent government. In the meantime, authority rests with Untac and the Supreme National Council, a largely powerless body chaired by Prince Sihanouk. He cancelled an SNC meeting scheduled for today, pleading illness.