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Cambodia: New Coalition Agreement Ends 11-Month Political Deadlock - 2004-06-30


Leaders of Cambodia's two main political parties formed a coalition government Wednesday, ending an 11-month stalemate. The move clears the way for a national bid to join the World Trade Organization and launch a war crimes tribunal for former Khmer Rouge leaders. Prime Minister Hun Sen remains in charge of the impoverished Southeast Asian nation but under the new agreement royalist party leader Prince Norodom Ranariddh will control 40 percent of the cabinet and become president of the National Assembly.

Leaders from the Cambodian People's Party and the royalist FUNCINPEC Party signed the accord Wednesday in Phnom Penh.

The two have been in on-again off-again negotiations since last July's election when Hun Sen's Cambodia People's Party failed to capture the two-thirds majority needed to rule independently.

Previous efforts to form a coalition government stalled when the royalist FUNCINPEC party demanded an even share of government posts.

Prince Ranariddh has in the past accused Hun Sen of corruption and dictatorial leanings, but there was little sign of discord Wednesday when the two signed the final accord and shared a champagne toast afterwards.

The prime minister says he expects the new government to take charge by mid-July.

U.S. Embassy spokeswoman Heidi Bronke says the move means the Cambodian National Assembly can pass long stalled legislation, including plans to establish a tribunal for former leaders of the Khmer Rouge accused of war crimes.

"Cambodia needs to ratify its invitation to join the WTO, there's the legislation to establish the KR tribunal, the domestic violence legislation, there are a number of important pieces of legislation that are on the table and waiting for the national assembly to address them," she said.

The Khmer Rouge led a communist government believed responsible for the deaths of more than one million Cambodians between 1975 and 1979.

The National Assembly is scheduled to meet July 8 when it will officially re-elect Hun Sen prime minister and establish the new coalition government.

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