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No Return Without Royal Pardon: Ranariddh

Exiled Prince Norodom Ranariddh said Thursday he will not return to Cambodia without a royal pardon from King Norodom Sihamoni, despite a public invitation for him to return by Prime Minister Hun Sen earlier this week.

"I'm sincerely grateful to Samdech PM for his speech and for allowing me to return to Cambodia," the prince said in a text message sent to VOA Khmer from Kuala Lumpur. "I'll be back only AFTER the royal pardon [is] granted to me by HM the King."

Prince Ranariddh faces an 18-month prison sentence and a fine of $150,000 on a breach of trust conviction that was upheld by the Supreme Court in July. The suit was brought by Funcinpec Secretary-General Nhiek Bunchhay following the sale of the party's headquarters when Prince Ranariddh was the president.

The Norodom Ranariddh Party has requested a royal pardon from the king, but royal cabinet officials have said the king has sought agreement from Hun Sen.

Hen Sen said Wednesday the prince was free to return, but a spokesman said no request for the suspension of his guilty verdict had been made.

Norodom Ranariddh Party spokesman Suth Dina said Thursday the party was preparing another request to the prime minister to accept a royal pardon, but they were waiting to send the letter until after the new government swears in later this month.

The reluctance of the prince to return without a pardon follows correspondence with Hun Sen on Thursday.

The invitation to return was a show of "reconciliation," the prince wrote to Hun Sen on Thursday, but he did not say whether he would accept it.

Lao Monghay, a researcher at the Asian Human Rights Commission, said the invitation of Hun Sen to suspend the prince's guilty sentence was an extrajudicial, political step outside the mandate of the executive branch of the government.

Without a royal pardon, the prince must serve at least two-thirds of his sentence before it can be suspended by law, Lao Monghay said.