I feel compelled to react to Brad Adams's article entitled " July 1997: shock
and Aftermath" (Phnom Penh Post, V. 16, N. 15, July 27-August 9, 2007) as he
has misquoted me and has placed my remarks out of context. Brad Adams, in his usual
zeal to blame everything on Hun Sen, tried to prove that Hun Sen had planned the
so-called coup by saying that as early as April 1996 Hun Sen made threatening remarks
against Ranariddh. What he left out was that threatening remarks were not coming
out of the blue but were provoked by Ranariddh, who dropped a bombshell in the FUNCINPEC
congress of 21-22 March 1996. Until then, Ranariddh had echoed Hun Sen's enthusiasm
for the coalition government. At the FUNCIPEC congress, Hun Sen attended as a special
guest and was welcomed with huge banners proclaiming "Long live the FUNCINPEC-CPP
alliance." After Hun Sen gave his speech and departed along with the journalists
who had come to cover him, Ranariddh fired off his fusillade-a forthright indictment
of the CPP, later broadcast on FUNCINPEC television and radio. The prince declared
himself "absolutely not happy" after two years as a first prime minister
but second banana and asserted that FUNCINPEC would rather withdraw than continue
to "betray" the government and the Khmer people. "Being a puppet,"
he told the assembled party, "is not so good."
Hun Sen indeed invited me, as a representative of the UN Secretary-General to give
his reaction on these threatening remarks of Ranariddh. Adams quoted me from my confidential
cables to New York as saying that " Hun Sen wanted to eliminate Ranariddh."
Now, ten years later, I have published my chronicles from my Cambodia years in a
book entitled: Dancing in Shadows: Sihanouk the Khmer Rouge and the United Nations.
My book describes the events in April 1996 in Chapter 12: A Puppet Prime Minister,
on pp. 218 which contains the following passage which Adams had misquoted:
"Invitation to Takhmau.
"In a rare two-hour tête-à-tête, Hun Sen spoke through his
interpreter, Bun Sambo, a jovial man who loved his gin tonics after strenuous interpretation.
Bun translated in a monotonous voice that contrasted sharply with Hun Sen's passionate
intonation. Hun Sen, whose English had improved markedly, often corrected Bun when
he missed nuances in his speech. He was obviously incensed with Ranariddh's 'folly'
and with rumors of FUNCINPEC 'extremists' gathering weapons for a resurgent FUNCINPEC
army. Hun Sen unleashed a constant barrage of criticism of Ranariddh, which diverged
markedly from his assurances until recently that the coalition worked and that the
two got along well. At one point he claimed that the prince was operating behind
a thin curtain that was now completely exposed. Always savvier than his co-prime
minister, Hun Sen outlined the prince's tactical errors in speaking out against the
Vietnamese and the CPP and sketched his response to possible outcomes.
With his statements, Hun Sen said, Ranariddh had unleashed the extremist forces within
his own party and crossed a point of no return. Hun Sen saw only three options available
to the prince. He could swallow his pride and continue with business as usual. He
could follow through on his threat, withdraw from the National Assembly, and call
for new elections. Or he could engage in armed conflict. Hun Sen claimed that Ranariddh
stood to lose no matter what option he chose.
The first option-to engage in business as usual-was the lesser of three evils for
Ranariddh, Hun Sen concluded. FUNCINPEC would be weakened, but the prince would lose
little more than his reputation and credibility. The second option-to withdraw from
the National Assembly and call for new elections-was invalid because it would be
unconstitutional. Still, Hun Sen assured me, he was fully prepared to counter Ranariddh
should FUNCINPEC pursue this option. They were welcome to try to leave the National
Assembly, Hun Sen said, but several senior "FUNCINPEC neutral forces" would
refuse and continue in the government in cooperation with the CPP.
Hun Sen calculated that Ranariddh's threat to dissolve parliament would fail. He
claimed that fifty-one CPP MPs would oppose it. In addition, he confidently stated
that the pro-CPP BLDP (Ieng Mouly) faction and National Movement for the Liberation
of Kampuchea (MOLINAKA) would also oppose such a move. FUNCINPEC members could just
walk out and take a vacation.
As head of the CPP, Hun Sen also opposed Ranariddh's plan to hold early elections.
He believed that Ranariddh wanted them so that he could again use the king as a draw,
implying that the king was not neutral. To Hun Sen, it seemed unfair for the CPP
to have to fight father and son yet again-once, during UNTAC times, had been enough.
Hun Sen chuckled dryly that sooner or later Sihanouk would die and leave the parties
to vie on their own terms.
Whenever the next elections took place, Hun Sen said, he absolutely opposed the substantial
international supervision preferred by FUNCINPEC, favoring limited international
observation. If major international supervision was imposed, he threatened, he would
postpone the elections. He also insisted on a law banning dual nationality for senior
positions. Such a ban would hurt FUNCINPEC and BLDP deeply, as many of their returned
exiles also held French, Australian, United States, or Canadian nationality, whereas
senior CPP people had never left the country.
The final scenario sketched out by Hun Sen-that Ranariddh would employ force to counter
the CPP-was the most dire, but he assured me that he would do everything possible
to avoid a violent solution. He claimed to have a transcript of Ranariddh's speech
at the FUNCINPEC meeting in Sihanoukville in which Ranariddh gave an order for FUNCINPEC
forces to be organized for 1997 and 1998. Thus, Hun Sen concluded, the unleashing
of extremist forces could be traced back to Ranariddh himself. "
Subsequently, Adams quoted me as saying that Hun Sen warned that he might use military
force. Actually, he left out crucial words and what I actually wrote is now reflected
in my book as follows
"Two days after my interview with him, Hun Sen issued a public threat. In a
speech to medical students, he warned that he would have no compunction about using
military force against anyone moving to dissolve the National Assembly and the constitution.
'And I have forces to do it, don't forget,' he declared, alluding to the troops he
had called in from Pailin to guard Phnom Penh."
Thus, Adams had left out the parts which provoked Hun Sen's remarks, i.e. Ranariddh's
provocations at the FUNCINPEC congress. Finally, Adams, in the first paragraph of
the article claimed that "Thomas Hammarberg, the United Nations Special Representative
on Human Rights in Cambodia made it clear in his October 1997 report to the United
Nations General Assembly: The events of July 5-6 were a 'coup d'état.'"
Again, he did not correctly explain how UN reports are presented to the General Assembly.
The report he quoted was United Nations Document A/52/489, "Report of the Secretary-General
on the Situation of Human Rights in Cambodia," 17 October 1997.This report was
written by Hammarberg, but like all reports written by UN officials to the UN General
Assembly, it was issued under the name of the secretary-general
Thomas Hammarberg, the UN human rights representative, being responsible to Kofi
Annan, definitely cannot call the events a coup unless his boss said so in the first
place. However, as I pointed out in Chapter 14 of my book, the fact is that neither
Kofi Annan nor the Security Council ever called the military showdown of July 5-6-
a coup d'etat. Ranariddh asked that the Cambodian question be put on the Council's
agenda, as his father had in 1979. But the president of the Security Council refused.
Rather, he issued a statement of concern calling upon all parties to respect fully
their commitments under the Paris Agreements. Obviously, in 1997, unlike in 1979,
developments in Cambodia were considered minor issues in global politics.
However, Hammarberg managed to slip the word "coup d'etat" in a rather
oblique fashion into the above report to the General Assembly quoted by Adams. When
describing a visit to Phnom Penh in his report, he said that he had used the term
"coup d'etat" during a meeting with Hun Sen on 4 September and that Hun
Sen had objected to it, contending that forces loyal to Ranariddh had started movements
for a coup themselves but had been halted. In a joint letter to Hammarberg, Prime
Ministers Ung Huot and Hun Sen objected to his "mischaracterization" of
events. Thus the word was slipped into a description of his conversation in Phnom
Penh but not a statement to the General Assembly.
Stamford, Connecticut, USA