Prince Norodom Ranariddh and his wife Ouk Phalla after casting their votes at a polling station in Phnom Penh June 3, 2012. Photo: AFP/Tang Chhin Sothy
Prince Norodom Ranariddh and his wife Ouk Phalla after casting their votes at a polling station in Phnom Penh June 3, 2012. Photo: AFP/Tang Chhin Sothy

The wife of Cambodia’s Prince Norodom Ranariddh was killed, the prince suffered serious injuries and six others were hurt in a car accident on Sunday in the southwestern coastal province of Preah Sihanouk.

Ranariddh’s BMW X3 collided head-on with a taxi that swerved across the road at about 10am on Sunday on National Road 4 in Preah Sihanouk province, according to provincial police chief Major General Chuon Narin. The prince’s wife, Ouk Phalla, a former professional classical dancer, died at about 12.20pm in the provincial hospital after suffering serious injuries in the accident.

Prince Ranariddh’s driver, the taxi driver and four of his passengers were also injured, added Maj Gen Narin.

Local media reported that Prince Ranariddh and his wife were taken from the scene of the accident by helicopter to a Phnom Penh hospital on Sunday afternoon and the prince was reported to be in a serious condition.

Prince Ranariddh, a former prime minister and half-brother of the current king Norodom Sihamoni, suffered “some broken ribs” and leg injuries, Yim Savy, the secretary-general of the Funcinpec party, told AFP.

“He was sent to Thailand as a precaution”, Savy said on Monday, adding that the 74-year-old was in good condition and “speaking normally.” Bangkok has some of the best medical facilities in Southeast Asia and Many wealthy Cambodians often travel there for treatment.

The accident happened when the prince was reportedly on his way to the seaside town of Sihanoukville to meet supporters of his Funcinpec party, which recently made a controversial return to politics.

Provincial governor Yun Min told Cambodian media that the driver of the taxi, a Highlander SUV carrying four passengers, was attempting to overtake another car but swerved and slammed head-on into Prince Ranariddh’s BMW.

Police identified the taxi driver as Vol Saret, 34, who is now in custody and being questioned. “It was a mistake by the driver for overtaking another car carelessly,” provincial governor Min said.

Funcinpec Party secretary-general Kim Say was traveling in a convoy with the prince on their way to the seaside town to meet people and try to drum up support for the party in the lead-up to the national elections on July 29. “Our cars were driving slowly at about 50 kilometers per hour,” he told local media. 

The prince’s wife’s body will be kept for a funeral in Phnom Penh, Cambodia’s Bayon TV reported. The prince’s wife Phalla, 39, was the mother of two sons and was standing as a Funcinpec candidate for Prey Veng province in the July 29 national election.

Sunday’s fatal accident was not the first the prince had been involved in on Cambodia’s notoriously dangerous roads. In April 2015, he and his wife had a serious accident in Kampong Cham province’s Prey Chhor district after visiting local supporters. A truck carrying soil side-swiped his BMW and his bodyguard’s pickup, injuring a total of six people. His wife sustained severe head injuries in that crash.

Ranariddh is the second son of influential late monarch Norodom Sihanouk and half-brother to current King Norodom Sihamoni. Unlike his brother Sihamoni, who is seen as non-political, Ranariddh has had a turbulent political career.

When Ranariddh’s Funcinpec party won the 1993 general election, it formed a coalition government with the Cambodian People’s Party, led by Hun Sen, and the two men served as joint prime ministers. Ranariddh became First Prime Minister, while Hun Sen became the Second Prime Minister. In 1997, Ranariddh was overthrown by Hun Sen in a bloody coup. 

He later fell out with his party and was pushed to resign, but returned to politics in 2015 to once again lead the royalist Funcinpec party. He returned to the political spotlight again last year despite his party not having any elected members in Cambodia’s parliament.

Last year Cambodia’s Supreme Court controversially dissolved the main opposition group, the Cambodia National Rescue Party (CNRP), a move many described as Hun Sen ensuring victory for his party in the national elections on July 29. This opened the way for Ranariddh’s Funcinpec party to make a comeback to Cambodian politics as it was allocated most of the CNRP’s vacant parliamentary seats. 

CNRP leader Kem Sokha was arrested on what most independent observers say are questionable accusations of plotting to take power with the help of the United States. The CNRP and Washington have both denied the charges.

With the national elections coming at the end of July, it is not believed – at this stage – that the death of Ranariddh’s wife or his own injuries will have a significant impact on the result.