Prince Norodom Rannaridh

Prince Norodom Rannaridh (born 1944) became first prime minister of Cambodia in 1993. He came to the government along with his father, Prince Sihanouk, restored to rule after 23 years in exile.

Prince Norodom Rannaridh's career was as a politician, lawyer, professor, journalist, military commander, and aide and confidant of his father, Prince (onetime King) Norodom Sihanouk. Having received much of his advanced education abroad, and with Cambodia falling under the control of rival communist regimes during much of the 1970s and 1980s, Prince Norodom Rannaridh seemed at one point inclined to accept a comfortable life in exile. By the late 1980s, however, international efforts provided a settlement that gave a new formal position and legitimacy to Prince Norodom Sihanouk as head of Cambodia. As a result, Rannaridh himself was increasingly drawn into work on his father's behalf, including leading the political and combat organizations of Sihanouk supporters, known as the ANS (Armée Nationale Sihanoukiste). During the 1980s the ANS was a 30,000 member armed faction operating in Cambodia. Diplomatic, political, and— eventually—military experience allowed Rannaridh to enter more and more into domestic Cambodian politics and its internal rivalries for power.

Prince Norodom Rannaridh was born on January 2, 1944, in the royal palace in Phnom Penh. He was the second child and the first son of Prince Norodom Sihanouk and of Sihanouk's first wife, Neak Moneang Phat Kanhol (died 1969). Rannaridh's formative years were spent at the Royal Khmer court in the turbulent years at the end and during the aftermath of World War II. In 1941 King Monivong, Rannaridh's grandfather, had died. France, which since the 1860s had progressively imposed colonial power upon Cambodia, chose Prince Norodom Sihanouk to succeed him. Although in the royal line, he was only 20 years old and without government experience. But Sihanouk did not prove malleable to French rule, scheming early on to restore Cambodia's independence and upsetting the delicate power balances at the Cambodian court.

A Royal Family Beset with Problems

Some deep ambivalances in life values helped shape Rannaridh's youth. During his early years Cambodia saw much political turbulence, as his father, King Sihanouk, under Japanese occupation power, proclaimed Cambodia to be an independent nation on March 13, 1945. Then, as bitter fighting raged in nearby Vietnam, Cambodian and Vietnamese communists began pressing for the overthrow of Sihanouk and for the establishment throughout Indochina of a "people's democracy." Not until July 1953 did the French agree to grant Cambodia full independence (along with the other Indochinese states, Vietnam and Laos).

Despite widening Cambodian desire for complete freedom from French colonialism, the atmosphere in Rannaridh's family and at the Phnom Penh court remained heavily "Frenchified." Royal family members, like Cambodia's upper classes, more readily spoke French among themselves than the Cambodian language of Khmer. Their tastes and lifestyles generally mirrored those of the top classes of French society. There was no question that Rannaridh would further his education in France. Then too, Rannaridh was brought up in the opulent traditional Cambodian royal style and the almost religious veneration for the monarchy felt among the mass of Cambodians even today. This was a sharp paradox with the change in political atmosphere in Cambodia brought first by the Japanese occupation during World War II and subsequently by radical Cambodian and Vietnamese nationalists and communists as they battled to expel first the French and then the Americans from Indochina.

Rannaridh had a superb master of politics in the figure of his own father, who could seem ambivalent even toward the Cambodian communists. Sihanouk abdicated as king on March 1, 1955, and still, as Samdech (prince), retained his royal aura and influence among the mass of his countrymen.

As the neighboring Vietnamese war grew in intensity, Rannaridh plunged into the highly politicized print media of Cambodia, eventually becoming editor of the principal French-language daily in Phnom Penh, Le Courier Khmer, in 1967. The paper was the voice of the pro-Sihanouk Cambodian upper strata, nationalist but not radical, and distrustful of Vietnamese ambitions. There also was political training. In the middle 1950s when Cambodian reformers had begun calling for a more democratic government in which the king would be a constitutional monarch, Sihanouk had formed his own political party, the Sangkum. Rannaridh rose to a leadership position in the party. Rannaridh also was drawn to the good life, but his royal status protected him from scandal.

Rannaridh Leaves a Troubled Country

In the turbulent 1960s, as the struggle in Vietnam became ever more intense and Americanized, Rannaridh went as his father's personal representative to neighboring Southeast Asian countries (1967-1968). His concern was that the United States might enlarge its military operations and encroach further on Cambodia (quite justified, as it turned out). Sihanouk also feared that a coup by anti-communist, American-supported, Cambodian military would topple him from power. In the midst of these controversies, Rannaridh was appointed a delegate of the Cambodian mission to the United Nations General Assembly (1968-1969). This was to be his last excursion into affairs of state for a while.

Cambodia was now gradually unraveling. Sihanouk was beginning to lose the confidence of Cambodia's upper strata, the bureaucracy, and the educated. While he was temporarily out of the country (1967-1968), local Cambodian military attempted to crush peasant rebellions with great severity, producing renewed resistance. Rannaridh now moved in new directions. On September 14, 1968, he married Eng Marie, a member of an old aristocratic Cambodian family. She was an accomplished musician. They had three children, Prince Norodom Chakravuth (born 1970), Prince Norodom Sihariddh (born 1972), and Princess Norodom Rattana Devi (born 1974).

In January 1969 he began his studies for a doctorate of law at the University of Aix-en-Provence in France. It was a timely decision. On March 18, 1970, King Norodom Sihanouk was declared deposed in a coup d'état led by General Lon Nol, former prime minister. The coup was supported by senior Cambodian military commanders as well as by the United States.

As Sihanouk in exile embarked on creating a united front and a "royal government of national unity" in opposition to the new Lon Nol regime, Rannaridh seemed to withdraw from political life. He concentrated on maritime law and toyed with the idea of pursuing a maritime insurance career in France. Meanwhile, the war in Cambodia intensified, including U.S. bombing raids, giving added strength to the appeals for peace and freedom by Cambodian communist guerrillas known as the Khmer Rouge and their leader, Pol Pot (Saloth Sar). After the United States and the North Vietnamese signed the Paris Peace Accords on January 27, 1973, ending further American military involvement in the war, it was but a matter of time before the Khmer Rouge, aided by the Vietnamese, established their "democratic" government in Phnom Penh.

During the later 1970s a harrowing nightmare descended on Cambodia as first the blood-soaked Khmer Rouge regime (1975-1978) cost more than a million Cambodian lives through executions and mistreatment; and then a Vietnamese invasion (December 25, 1978) established a new communist, but Hanoi-dominated, People's Republic of Kampuchea (PRK). Most members of Rannaridh's family, including his father, Norodom Sihanouk, had escaped abroad. Rannaridh lost an uncle and three cousins during the blood-soaked Khmer Rouge regime.

Rannaridh Becomes Involved

As his father sought to restore his own government, Rannaridh seemed initially to turn to the life of the scholar. In 1974 he had acquired his doctorate in law and by 1979 he was a full professor of law at the University of Aix-en-Provence. Most of the Cambodians in France came from the better educated and higher social strata in Cambodian society. Some of them came to see Rannaridh as a younger, less mercurial, and more trustworthy leader than his father. Rannaridh also began to make contacts with the various pro-Sihanoukist resistance groups in Cambodia. Among these was the National Liberation of Kampuchea, known by its French acronym as Moulinaka.

By the early 1980s Rannaridh's scholarly career was shelved. He traveled to Bangkok and by mid-1983 had become his father's official representative in Thailand, a center of anti-communist Cambodian resistance groups. In 1981 Moulinaka merged with other pro-Sihanoukist factions into a broad-based, well-financed, and well-organized opposition, headquartered in Bangkok and called the National United Front for an Independent, Neutral, Peaceful and Cooperative Cambodia (FUNCINPEC). After serving on its executive committee for two years under his father's overall direction, Rannaridh in mid-1985 became secretary general of FUNCINPEC.

The struggle for power in Cambodia, meanwhile, increasingly turned to low-key civil war. As other Cambodian factions, including the Khmer Rouge and the government of the People's Republic of Kampuchea, maintained their own armed organizations, FUNCINPEC spawned a 15,000-member army of its own, the earlier-mentioned Armée Nationale Sihanoukiste (ANS). At the beginning of 1986 Rannaridh assumed the title of commander-in-chief and chief of staff of the ANS, although actual military tactics and planning was left to his subordinates. He was preoccupied with preparing for the time when the Sihanoukists might participate in United Nations supervised elections in Cambodia.

The prospect of such elections was becoming ever more likely toward the close of the 1980s. Finally, in Paris on October 23, 1991, as the last Vietnamese troops had already withdrawn three months earlier, a Cambodian Peace Agreement was signed by the principal Cambodian factions and with the approval of the U.N. Security Council. The agreement called for a United Nations Temporary Administration in Cambodia (UNTAC) to control a cease-fire among the warring Cambodian factions and to ensure the holding of free and fair elections in Cambodia. The agreement also established a Supreme National Council (SNC) composed of representatives of all the warring Cambodian factions to be the official representative body of the Cambodian people during the transition period. Rannaridh was appointed a member of the SNC, which was headed by his father, Norodom Sihanouk, as head of state.

The United Nations Lends a Hand

Not until March 1992 did U.N. troops and support groups (eventually numbering nearly 16,000) arrive in Cambodia. During the next year and a half there were numerous outbursts of violence. Nevertheless, from May 23 to 28, 1993, as scheduled, some four million Cambodians went to the polls in a general election widely considered to have been free and fair. FUNCINPEC, led by Rannaridh, won a plurality, 58 of the 120 seats at stake in the new National Assembly, entitling the Sihanoukists to shape most of the government. The now defunct PRK government, led by its premier Hun Sen, won 51 seats, with a small third party winning most of the rest.

The Khmer Rouge, which had boycotted the elections, won no seats but said they would support Sihanouk as head of state. Within days the new National Assembly had granted Sihanouk broad powers as head of state (the title of king was studiously avoided). On June 14, 1993, the assembly accepted Rannaridh as first prime minister and Hun Sen as second prime minister. Most of the cabinet consisted of FUNCINPEC or CPP stalwarts (Rannaridh's younger brother, Norodom Siriwudh, was named foreign affairs minister). On September 21, 1993, the Constituent Assembly adopted a constitution creating a parliamentary monarchy, and Sihanouk was enthroned as king for the second time.

Things Fall Apart

The uneasy partnership between Rannaridh and Hun Sen began to unravel in 1996 as preparations began for national elections scheduled for 1998. The two prime ministers met less and less often and their parties attacked each other in the press. The Khmer Rouge, which had remained an armed opposition in remote parts of the country, split, with more moderate splinter groups announcing alignment with one party or the other. Each party courted the various Khmer Rouge leadership factions. In June 1997 came the surprising announcement that Pol Pot, the notorious hardliner who had led the Khmer Rouge for decades, had been deposed and taken in custody by other Khmer Rouge leaders.

Hun Sen brought the dual leadership to an end in July 1997 by sending troops against FUNCINPEC facilities and arresting key leaders. He accused Rannaridh of various crimes, most significantly, illegally negotiating with the Khmer Rouge. Rannaridh himself had been alerted and had left the country the day before the coup.

Further Reading on Prince Norodom Rannaridh

There is no published full-length biography of Norodom Rannaridh, but a useful summary of all the important events in the lives of the members of the royal Cambodian family, including Rannaridh, can be found in Justin J. Corfield, The Royal Family of Cambodia (Melbourne, Australia, 1990). A comprehensive survey of Cambodian history and politics, along with general information on the country and an extensive bibliography, is provided by Russell R. Ross, ed., Cambodia. A Country Study (1990). Other historical-political background accounts are: David P. Chandler, The Tragedy of Cambodian History (1991); Craig Etcheson, The Rise and Demise of Democratic Kampuchea (1984); Ben Kiernan, Genocide and Democracy in Cambodia (1993); and Justus M. van der Kroef, "Paths to a Solution in Cambodia: Problems and Prospects," Asian Thought and Society. An International Review (October-December 1991). For Rannaridh's own political outlook see his interview by Barbara Crosette in The New York Times (January 3, 1987) and in Newsweek, byline by Ron Moreau (June 14, 1993). Cambodian events, including Rannaridh's views and decisions, are reported regularly in the weekly Far Eastern Economic Review (Hong Kong; see especially its issues of June 3, 1993, and December 9, 1993).

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