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Logo of Phnom Penh Post newspaper Phnom Penh Post - July 1997: Hun Sen was provoked

July 1997: Hun Sen was provoked

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.

Benny Widyono.

Stamford, Connecticut, USA



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