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Injured former Cambodian PM Ranariddh sent to Thai hospital


PHNOM PENH, Cambodia — A Cambodian prince who is a candidate in upcoming elections was transferred to a hospital in neighbouring Thailand on Monday after being injured in a road crash that killed his wife, a fellow politician said.

Prince Norodom Ranariddh, 74, son of the late King Norodom Sihanouk and half brother of Cambodia's current king, was injured when a taxi slammed into his SUV in southwest Cambodia. The SUV was part of a convoy carrying senior members of Ranariddh's FUNCINPEC party to Sihanoukville on Sunday when the crash occurred, a senior party member in the group said.

Ranariddh's 39-year-old wife, Ouk Phalla, also was a candidate in Cambodia's general election next month. She died in a hospital after the crash, Sihanoukville police chief Gen. Chuon Narin said.

Ranariddh, who was originally reported severely injured, suffered broken ribs, a politician familiar with his situation told The Associated Press. The politician, who spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to release information, said Ranariddh was flown to Bangkok at 1 a.m. Monday for medical care at the request of the country's Royal Palace. Cambodia's King Norodom Sihamoni is Ranariddh's half brother.

Fresh News, a news agency close to the government, also reported that Ranariddh had been taken to Thailand.

Nhep Bun Chin, a FUNCINPEC spokesman, said Ranariddh's condition had improved, but declined to confirm his evacuation to Bangkok.

Health care in Cambodia has a poor reputation, and senior officials, including Prime Minister Hun Sen, as well as the well-to-do often go abroad for serious medical problems.

Ranariddh was Cambodia's co-prime minister for four years in an uneasy power-sharing arrangement with Hun Sen after his party won a United Nations-organized election in 1993. His party's popularity was largely due to its royalist credentials, although Ranariddh's personal relations with his popular father, late King Norodom Sihanouk, were often strained.

He was ousted in July 1997 and fled abroad when long-simmering tensions between him and Hun Sen exploded into two days of bitter fighting in Phnom Penh between his forces and those loyal to Hun Sen.

Ranariddh was allowed to return to contest elections the following year but failed to repeat his success at the ballot. He slid into political irrelevancy, as FUNCINPEC became co-opted by Hun Sen, a much savvier and tougher politician than Ranariddh.

Ranariddh is currently president of FUNCINPEC. It holds 41 seats in the National Assembly, but only because seats held by the opposition Cambodia National Rescue Party were redistributed after CNRP was dissolved by a court.

The dissolution was widely seen as a manoeuvr to ensure an easy victory for Hun Sen in the general election, with parties contesting the polls generally seen as hopelessly weak or fronting for the ruling Cambodian People's Party so it can claim it ran a fair race by allowing opposition candidates.

Ranariddh is also president of the Supreme Privy Advisory Council to King Norodom Sihamoni.

Ouk Phalla, a classical Cambodian dancer reported to be descended from a separate royal family branch, was Ranariddh's second wife.

Sopheng Cheang, The Associated Press

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