A Cambodian prince and former prime minister was injured and his wife killed in a head-on collision on a highway in the country’s southwest today, officials said.
Prince Norodom Ranariddh and his wife Ouk Phalla were rushed to hospital after a taxi travelling in the other direction slammed into their motorcade in Preah Sihanouk province.
Phalla died in a nearby facility while Ranariddh, the head of the royalist Funcinpec party, was flown to Phnom Penh for further treatment.
The death of Phalla is the loss of “a national hero for the Funcinpec party”, a posting on Ranariddh’s official Facebook page said hours later.
A party member confirmed the wife’s death but said Ranariddh, 74, was expected to recover. Details of his injuries were not immediately available.
The accident happened Sunday morning when a taxi carrying several passengers crashed into the convoy carrying the couple and supporters.
A report on the national police website showed badly damaged cars and victims on the roadside. Seven people were initially reported injured.
Ranariddh was travelling from the riverside town of Kampot to Preah Sihanouk as part of campaigning for controversial national elections set for July 29.
Funcinpec is taking part despite widespread complaints that the poll will be neither free nor fair after the main opposition group, the Cambodia National Rescue Party (CNRP), was banned late last year.
Hun Sen, the prime minister who has been in power for 33 years, has crushed dissent leading up to the election, ensuring an expected resounding victory for his ruling Cambodian People’s Party.
Ranariddh, the half-brother of Cambodia’s King Norodom Sihamoni and son of the late monarch Norodom Sihanouk, has had a fraught relationship with Hun Sen.
The prince served jointly with Hun Sen as prime minister from 1993 to 1997, when he was toppled in a bloody coup led by forces loyal to the strongman.
He never again reached the same level of popularity and was ejected from Funcinpec almost a decade ago, only to return to it in 2015 after several attempted forays back into politics.
In recent years he has reconciled with his former foe as part of a political comeback, and was granted one of the CNRP’s parliamentary seats after they were redistributed.
Traffic accidents are a leading cause of death in Cambodia, where road rules are weakly enforced. Highways also lack dividers while speed limits are often ignored.
In 2015 Ranariddh was slightly injured when his car was hit by a truck.