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Cambodia: Prince Sihanouk tells United Nations representative in Phnom Penh that he can no longer work with the UNTAC

PHILLIP LASKER: In South-East Asia there's new uncertainty today, over peace efforts in Cambodia following the declaration by Prince Norodohm Sihanouk that he can no longer work with the United Nations peacekeeping authority. In a letter to the UN chief in Cambodia, Yashui Akashi, the Prince cited the UN's inability to stop what he called political violence. Last month, Prince Sihanouk who is regarded by many Cambodians as head of state, warned that he would not continue working with the UN transitional authority and the Phnom Penh regime unless the violence stopped. Sue Downey reports from Phnom Penh that the UN chief has indicated he will meet Prince Sihanouk later this week.

SUE DOWNEY: The letter to Mr Akashi was faxed from Beijing where the Prince has been since early November, ostensibly for medical treatment. In the one-page letter, Prince Sihanouk said he would no longer work with UNTAC - the UN transitional authority - nor the Phnom Penh regime because of what he called 'extreme, serious and persistent crimes perpetuated against FUNCINPEC' - the party headed by his son, Prince Rannarith. In another letter sent to Mr Akashi on Sunday, he cited two attacks in the past two days in which three people, including a 12 year-old girl, died. He quoted Prince Rannarith as saying that nine FUNCINPEC members have been killed and more than 30 injured in the past two months. Although Prince Rannarith does not name names, the Phnom Penh regime is being blamed for the attacks which have included shootings and hand grenade attacks, as well as intimidation and harassment. And FUNCINPEC is not the only opposition party under attack. The Buddhist Liberal Democratic Party, headed by one-time Prime Minister Son Sann, claims 22 of its members have been killed by government agents.

As a result of these political acts, Prince Sihanouk said in his letter to Mr Akashi: 'I am compelled to cease co-operating with UNTAC and the state of Cambodia' - meaning the Phnom Penh Government.

Western analysts say this is the most serious blow to the Cambodian peacekeeping operation, as Prince Sihanouk is the figurehead who brings together the four factions: the Phnom Penh regime, Prince Rannarith's party, Son Sann's party, and the Khmer Rouge. The Khmer Rouge dropped out of the peacekeeping operation in June, and one analyst says he believes Prince Rannarith may follow his father and also cease co-operating with the UN. That would leave only the Government and Son Sann with his Buddhist Liberal Democratic Party.

In the past, government officials have quietly hinted that the Government may pull out of the peace process because they say it's unfair that the Khmer Rouge are not being punished for their non-compliance, yet the Government is still being subjected to UN restrictions and monitoring. However, it's always possible that Prince Sihanouk will change his mind, as he has on at least fourteen similar occasions, and that could happen later in the week when Mr Akashi goes to Beijing to meet the Prince. The UN chief will also probably be trying to cajole the 70 year-old Prince into returning to Phnom Penh, as it's more than two months since he left the capital to seek medical treatment in Beijing.

This is Sue Downey in Phnom Penh.