King Norodom Sihanouk, a central figure in Cambodian politics for more than a half-century, predicts he will never regain a role in his country's future and will die in his place of exile, China.

In a letter addressed to veteran politician Son Sann, the 75-year-old Sihanouk said the regime led by strongman Hun Sen will not permit him to become involved in the peace process, elections, environmental or other political issues."Like Your Excellency, I aspire only to serve our people and die on Cambodian soil," he wrote in the letter disclosed Saturday. "But Heaven doesn't permit us to realize all our patriotic dreams. I think that I will die far from our country."

Although he has been a major player in Cambodian politics for decades, Sihanouk has been sidelined in the confrontation between Hun Sen and Prince Norodom Ranariddh, the king's son, who was ousted as co-prime minister in a violent coup last year.

Responding to a request by Son Sann that he help resolve Cambodia's impasse, Sihanouk wrote that if he became more deeply involved in politics, what is currently low-level fighting would erupt into a full-scale civil war.

Japanese diplomats have devised a plan whereby the exiled Prince Ranariddh would be tried in absentia on allegations of weapons smuggling and plotting a coup. The prince would then receive a pardon from Sihanouk, enabling him to return home to contest elections July 26.

But in an interview Saturday, Sihanouk said a pardon won't come easily. He wants Ranariddh or a family member to request it in writing and Hun Sen to say, in writing, that he would favor it. Otherwise, the king fears Hun Sen will vilify him.

Sihanouk's efforts to broker a peace deal between Hun Sen's army and the small resistance forces loyal to Ranariddh have been fruitless. Hun Sen has kept the king at arm's length and organized a propaganda campaign ques-tion-ing Cambodia's future as a constitutional monarchy.