Former Cambodian PM Ranariddh hurt in car crash; wife killed

A Cambodian prince who was a candidate in upcoming general elections was seriously injured Sunday in a road crash that killed his wife and injured at least seven other people, officials said.

Prince Norodom Ranariddh, 74, was in a convoy along with senior members of his FUNCINPEC party heading toward Sihanoukville in southwest Cambodia when a taxi traveling in the opposite direction slammed into his SUV, said a senior party member in the group.

Ranariddh's wife also was standing as a candidate in Cambodia's general election next month.

His wife, Ouk Phalla, died in a hospital after the crash, and Ranariddh suffered head injuries and was transferred to Phnom Penh for urgent treatment, Sihanoukville police chief Gen. Chuon Narin said.

Ranariddh was Cambodia's co-prime minister for four years in an uneasy power-sharing arrangement with current Prime Minister 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.

The dissolution was widely seen as a maneuver 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, his half brother.

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