Observers View First Trial As Mere Procedural Step

The trial of deposed first prime minister Prince Norodom Ranariddh on charges of illegally importing weapons is set to go ahead Wednesday, with few observers viewing it as anything but a procedural step toward bringing the prince back for elections.

“We just want it over and done with,” one Asean diplomat said Monday. “Everyone knows what the result of the trial will be.”

According to officials at Phnom Penh Military Court, the trial may be over and done with quickly indeed. The court’s deputy director, Sao Sok, who will act as the prosecution, said Monday he expected the trial to be over within the day.

Prince Ranariddh has repeated and Thach Suong, chief of the prince’s bodyguard unit, are to be tried Wednesday on charges of illegally importing weapons.

None of the accused are expected to attend the trial. Prince Ranariddh is in self-exile in Bangkok; Nhiek Bun Chhay and Serey Kosal, the former deputy governor of Battambang who became the prince’s security adviser, are currently leading resistance forces along the Thai border; and Chao Sambath’s body was exhumed in Kompong Speu province in October.

Charges against the prince were filed after troops loyal to Second Prime Minister Hun Sen effectively ousted him from power in fighting July 5 and 6.

Hun Sen said the prince’s alleged collusion with the Khmer Rouge was a threat to stability, making the military operation necessary. The prince has insisted the charges were trumped up in order to justify a coup d’etat against him.

Chao Sambath was a general and deputy chief of staff of intelligence and espionage for the RCAF supreme command before July. Government officials have been quoted as saying that Chao Sambath died in battle as forces loyal to Prince Ranariddh fled the capital in July. Human rights workers present at his exhumation said he was tortured and executed after he was captured near Odong district.

The collusion charges were filed against the prince and Chao Sambath and the prince before the general’s body was discovered. Despite its identification by relatives, government officials have yet to acknowledge that the body was Chao Sambath’s.

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