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Second premier's troops tighten grip on Cambodian capital

July 6, 1997
Web posted at: 12:26 p.m. EDT (1626 GMT)

PHNOM PENH, Cambodia (CNN) -- Cambodia's capital city was a battleground Sunday, as residents and non-residents alike fled fighting between forces loyal to the country's two rival premiers.

Second Prime Minister Hun Sen's troops tightened their grip Sunday on Phnom Penh. Roads were blocked, effectively sealing off the city. Phnom Penh's airport was also closed, and phone lines were cut, while television stations aired a tape of Hun Sen accusing his co-premier of preparing for war.

"Prince Norodom Ranariddh and a number of accomplices have illegally imported weapons in an ill intention to provoke a war," Hun Sen said.

First Prime Minister Ranariddh, meanwhile, denounced Hun Sen's actions in a statement released in Paris, where he was reportedly visiting relatives last week. Reports said Ranariddh had returned to Cambodia Sunday.

"I call on the Royal Khmer Armed Forces and the Royal Police to not follow Hun Sen and his partisans in their illegal and criminal adventure that puts our country in great danger," he said.

The first prime minister's ailing father, King Norodom Sihanouk, urged the feuding rulers to join him in Beijing to negotiate a settlement. Sihanouk is undergoing medical treatment in the Chinese capital.

The Japanese government said Sunday that the two sides had agreed to a cease-fire, but the fighting continued Sunday night.

Reports out of Cambodia were unclear about what faction held which parts of the city, or if fighting was going on elsewhere in the country. But it was clear that the long-simmering feud between the two leaders had erupted.

At least nine people had been killed in the fighting Sunday, and dozens more were wounded in the mortar, rocket and machine gun fire that sent thousands scrambling to leave the city.

Ranariddh's residence and the French embassy were reportedly damaged in the fighting.

Ranariddh and Hun Sen -- battlefield foes during Cambodia's long civil war -- became partners in a coalition government following U.N.-sponsored elections in 1993. But their rivalry intensified after the alleged capture of ruthless former dictator Pol Pot by a defecting Khmer Rouge faction.

Hun Sen accused Ranariddh of recruiting Khmer Rouge guerrillas to bolster his forces. The first premier denied this.

Correspondent John Raedler and Reuters contributed to this report.

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