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Cambodia's Main Parties Attempt to Solve Political Deadlock - 2004-06-03

It appears that Cambodia's 10-month-long political crisis has finally been resolved, with leaders of two major parties reaching an agreement that will finally allow them to form a new government.

The new government will be a cooperative effort between Prime Minister Hun Sen and one of his two major political rivals, the Royalist party leader Prince Norodom Ranaridh.

The two men on Thursday announced they had resolved a long list of issues that were keeping them from cooperating.

Hun Sen is expected to remain prime minister. Prince Ranaridh, who spent the past 10 months attempting to push the prime minister aside, will reportedly be named chairman of the National Assembly.

The country has been in a state of political deadlock since parliamentary elections last July resulted in no clear winner. Hun Sen refused to relinquish power. Prince Ranaridh and Sam Rainsy, the leader of the other major party, refused to join Hun Sen's Cambodian People's Party in a coalition government unless he stepped aside.

Thursday's agreement appears to leave Sam Rainsy in opposition.

Milton Osborne, a visiting fellow at Australian National University in Canberra, a specialist on Cambodian politics, says it became clear that Prince Ranaridh would have to join the prime minister if he wanted to gain power.

"Prince Ranaridh saw there was little to be gained from maintaining his position of going into opposition with Hun Sen and that in the long run his own interests and those associated with him would be better served by returning to a coalition government," he said.

The deadlock has left Cambodia without a functioning parliament. It also delayed efforts to put on trial leaders of the Khmer Rouge, who led a communist government that was responsible for the deaths of more than one million Cambodians between 1975 and 1979. Mr. Osborne says he is not hopeful the new government will be more effective than the one it replaces, but he says the peace agreement may be enough to restore much need international assistance to the troubled country.

"Various countries either suspended or halted their aid programs to Cambodia with the failure of the government to be formed," he said. "I would imagine those aid programs will now be renewed or the suspension will be lifted."

This will not be the first time Hun Sen and Prince Ranaridh have shared power. They were co-prime ministers in 1997, until Hun Sen ousted the prince. But in national elections in 1998, Hun Sen failed to win a majority, and was forced to turn to Prince Ranaridh for help in forming another coalition.