DIPLOMATIC cables made public by WikiLeaks yesterday reveal simmering tensions within the ruling Cambodian People’s Party and revive long-standing suspicions over alleged government involvement in some of the Kingdom’s most notorious political killings.
The cables repeatedly allude to alleged factionalism in the CPP, long denied by government officials, between camps allied with Prime Minister Hun Sen and with Interior Minister Sar Kheng and Senate president Chea Sim.
In a 1994 cable, Hun Sen reportedly says the faction rumours, which began circulating in the mid-1980s, “were not true then, nor are they true now”.
Later communiqués, however, reveal potential fissures in the party.
Regarding an alleged coup attempt in 1994 headed by cabinet members Norodom Chakrapong and Sin Song, Foreign Minister Hor Namhong is said to reveal in a 1995 cable that Chea Sim “asked Namhong quietly late last summer to request Hun Sen not to pursue penalties for the coup plotters, a message Hor Namhong did not deliver”.
Hun Sen showed “a near-obsession with his personal security” in the year that followed, according to a 1995 cable, which also notes that the premier had reportedly ordered Funcinpec co-Interior Minister You Hockry, rather than the CPP’s Sar Kheng, to head an investigation into alleged death threats against him.
A March, 2006 cable quotes a senior Funcinpec official as saying that Hun Sen received assistance from current Funcinpec deputy prime minister Nhek Bun Chhay in pushing back the 1994 coup attempt.
The official also reportedly claims that Hun Sen began interfering more aggressively in Funcinpec affairs and allowed previously exiled opposition leader Sam Rainsy to return to Cambodia in response to a rumour “that FUNCINPEC and the SRP planned to join forces with the Chea Sim/Sar Kheng faction of the CPP to oppose Hun Sen”.
Despite these suspicions, in early 2006 the premier reportedly offered Sam Rainsy a post as deputy prime minister, “possibly with broad authority over various ministries”, according to a Sam Rainsy Party source.
“Rainsy reportedly declined, telling the PM that such a move would be ‘political suicide’ for an opposition leader,” according to the source.
“Instead, he suggested that Hun Sen appoint him to lead the anti-corruption commiss-ion that is to be established under pending legislation.”
Even up to 2009, Hun Sen may have been concerned about the Chea Sim faction, one cable alleges, speculating that that year’s crackdown on political speech was motivated in part by Hun Sen’s need to appease the “conservative faction” of Chea Sim and National Assembly president Heng Samrin within the ruling party.
The cable laments the suppression of freedom of expression that came that year, putting it down in part to a pattern of post-election crackdowns.
“There is genuine fear among Cambodia’s ruling party about the increasing joblessness among a large, youthful population and increased criminal activity because of the lack of other opportunities,” US ambassador Carol Rodley added.
“We need to understand, and be responsive to, Cambodia’s new reality, to listen intently to what the leadership is worrying about and to show that we have a relationship of trust.”
The 2006 arrest of former Phnom Penh municipal police chief Heng Pov, sentenced in 2009 to more than 90 years in prison on a raft of charges including extortion, kidnapping and murder, exposed further rifts in the ruling party, the cables allege.
American diplomats put Heng Pov’s downfall down in part to his rivalry with former National Police chief Hok Lundy.
Heng Pov fled the country that year and eluded capture for several months in Singapore, during which time he publicly accused senior government officials of drug trafficking, planning the deadly 1997 grenade attack on a Sam Rainsy Party rally and ordering the infamous 1999 killing of singer Piseth Pilika.
A 2006 American cable, however, noted that these claims “elicited little more than a shrug; sources claim that Pov’s accusations reflect what most people already considered common knowledge”.
Hun Sen, the cable adds, was reportedly furious with Hok Lundy for allowing Heng Pov to temporarily escape the Kingdom ahead of his capture in December, 2006.
“No matter how one examines this issue, Cambodia’s government still looks bad when its top police officials are launching serious accusations and counter-charges against one another that go back more than a decade,” the cable states.
“At the very least, the [government] looks bad for having such an incompetent and unprofessional police force – and not doing anything about it over these many years.”
The cables also address the notorious 2004 killing of Free Trade Union leader Chea Vichea, which was followed by the killings of two more FTU activists in subsequent years and remains unsolved to this day.
“Two years after his murder, many questions continue to surround the death of Chea Vichea,” a 2006 cable states, adding that while most rights groups agree that the men initially convicted of the crime were framed, the government “is unwilling to reopen a highly emotional case . . . that could become politically volatile”.
Later on, the February, 2007 killing of Free Trade Union leader Hy Vuthy and the shooting of popular singer Pov Panhapich served as “a chilling reminder of past violent crimes that remain unsolved to this day”, a cable from that year states.
Hy Vuthy’s killing, the cable says, “follows the familiar pattern of gunmen on the backs of motorcycles shooting their victims with little fear of capture”.
“FTU president Chea Mony accused a rival union of responsibility, but there is no evidence linking anyone to the crime,” the cable states, calling this and other unsolved killings “a silent reminder of Cambodia’s continuing culture of impunity”.
The attack on Pov Pan-hapich, then-US ambassador Joseph Mussomeli writes, follows assaults on other popular singers including Piseth Pilika in 1999, Touch Srey Nich in 2003 and Tat Marina in 2000.
“Rumors suggest that the entertainer was romantically linked to a high-level government official, and National Police Commissioner Hok Lundy has been named as a possible love interest,” the cable says of the Pov Panhapich attack, adding that it “may indeed involve a ranking [government] official”.
“An adviser in the PM’s cabinet told us Friday morning about the shooting, noting that he had been directly called upon … to facilitate the medical evacuation of the injured entertainer to Vietnam,” Mussomeli notes.
Amid all this, there are nonetheless suggestions that Hun Sen feels some need to act against the Kingdom’s endemic corruption and culture of impunity, but is hamstrung by political realities.
In an April, 2006 cable recounting a US meeting with Sam Rainsy, the opposition leader reportedly said he “believes Hun Sen realises the situation requires action, but does not understand how to tackle corruption without upsetting the very structure that keeps the PM in power”.