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Police Dismiss Claims of Foul Play in Accident Involving Opposition Party Leader

In this photo provided by Cambodia National Police, onlookers stand around the mangled wreckage of Cambodia's Prince Norodom Ranariddh's car after a collision with another vehicle outside Sihanoukville, Cambodia, Sunday, June 17, 2018. Ranariddh has been seriously injured in the road crash that killed his wife and injured at least seven other people early Sunday. (Cambodia National Police via AP)

The prince and his wife, Ouk Phalla, 39, were traveling to meet supporters in the southwestern province on Sunday morning.

Police investigating a deadly traffic incident that caused the death of the wife of Prince Norodom Ranariddh, the head of the opposition Funcinpec party, leaving the political veteran seriously injured, have found no evidence to back up claims of foul play.

Police determined that the traffic accident was caused by poor driving on the part of a taxi driver who collided with Ranarridh’s vehicle while speeding in the overloaded car in Preah Sihanouk province.

The prince and his wife, Ouk Phalla, 39, were traveling to meet supporters in the southwestern province on Sunday morning.

Phalla was pronounced dead on arrival at Sihanouk Provincial Hospital. Ranariddh was transferred to a hospital in Thailand where he is currently being treated.

General Him Yan, the deputy national police chief leading the investigation into the crash, on Thursday told reporters that Mel Sareth, the 34-year-old taxi driver, was responsible for the crash and had overloaded his car with seven passengers.

Funcinpec officials had previously claimed that the crash may have been an attempt on Ranariddh’s life ahead of next month’s general election.

“We would like to completely reject all claims that contradict the findings of our investigation,” Yan said.

He added that Sareth had attempted to overtake another car at speed and had lost control before hitting Ranariddh’s convoy.

Sareth has been treated in a hospital and will be detained under a court order, he said.

According to the police report of the incident, eleven people were injured in the crash.

You Hok Kry, Funcinpec vice president, however, claimed that as the prince had been involved in three serious traffic incidents in recent years, foul play could not be ruled out.

He added that party officials had yet to inform Ranariddh of the death of his wife, who was cremated on Wednesday.

“We will make sure his health is such that he can handle the information before we do it,” he said.

The Funcinpec party returned to the spotlight this year after the dissolution of the main opposition party, the Cambodia National Rescue Party, with Funcinpec agreeing to assume the majority of the CNRP’s vacated seats in parliament.

Hok Kry said the crash would not delay Funcinpec’s plans to campaign ahead of the vote. The campaigning period begins on July 7.

“The prince has appointed a committee to do general work for the party and manage the party while he is not around,” he said.