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Logo of Phnom Penh Post newspaper Phnom Penh Post - Political chess game over Sin Sen

Political chess game over Sin Sen

THE King last week won the prison release of convicted July 1994 coup plotter Sin

Sen for "health reasons", after a long campaign to get him freed.

Within a month of the former Interior Ministry chief being sentenced to 18 years

in prison in late 1994, the King began seeking a total or partial amnesty for Sin


The King's efforts - in line with his Constitutional power to grant amnesty - were

opposed by Second Prime Minister Hun Sen for more than a year.

Sin Sen was finally freed from T3 prison Mar 28, on the grounds he was ill, into

what was described as "house arrest" or "residential custody"

at his Phnom Penh home.

The house arrest - requested by the King and apparently approved by Hun Sen - has

no time limit. Government officials say he is likely to stay out of prison for good.

Sin Sen, 17 months into his 18-year sentence, was the only person in prison in Cambodia

for the coup bid.

Convicted coup leaders Prince Norodom Chakrapong and Sin Song, sentenced in absentia

to 20 years' prison, are abroad. Chakrapong left in exile and Sin Song escaped to

Thailand, where he remains detained, his future uncertain.

All three men have had about 10 years' cut off their prison sentences by successive

Royal decrees, but it is unclear whether Sin Sen's release will smooth the way for

the others' return to Cambodia.

The trio, all from Hun Sen's Cambodian People's Party (CPP), were tried and sentenced

by the Phnom Penh Military Court on Oct 28, 1994.

In a Nov 23, 1994 letter to National Assembly president Chea Sim and co-Prime Ministers

Hun Sen and Prince Norodom Ranariddh, the King proposed amnesty for Sin Sen.

The King, acting on a request from Sin Sen's wife, asked that amnesty be considered

for Sin Sen because his fellow plotters had managed to escape his fate.

In a Dec 3, 1994 reply to the King, Chea Sim said that "we respect very much

your request", but fell short of agreeing to it.

In April 1995, the King wrote to Chea Sim saying that he would be able to sign an

amnesty decree for Sin Sen if both Prime Ministers agreed.

But he added that if Sin Sen was amnestied, it was "reasonable and just"

that Chakrapong and Sin Song also be. The Prime Ministers' approval would be needed

for that too.

Ranariddh, according to senior government sources, supported the King's proposal,

as did Chea Sim, who is president of the CPP. Hun Sen, however, opposed any amnesty.

In the face of Hun Sen's resolve, the King changed tack. In June 1995, he signed

a decree which cut two years off the sentences of Sin Sen, Sin Song and Chakrapong,

and later signed at least two other such decrees. Sources say a total of 10 years

was knocked off each of their sentences.

The King never granted total amnesty to any of the three. Though the Constitution

clearly gives the King the "right to grant partial or complete amnesty",

in practice he prefers to have the agreement of the Prime Ministers.

The King again wrote to Hun Sen and Ranariddh several months ago, referring to a

letter from Sin Sen's wife that said her husband was sick and would be better off

at home.

A decision was apparently delayed by the political turmoil over the arrest of Prince

Norodom Sirivudh, who coincidentally lived next door to Sin Sen's house.

The instruction to transfer Sin Sen to his home was given this month by the Council

of Ministers, which is headed by the Prime Ministers, at the King's request. It apparently

did not involve a Royal decree.

Om Yentieng, an adviser to Hun Sen, would not say whether the Second Prime Minister

had approved Sin Sen's release. "The King asked for the release...there is no

use in paying attention to somebody else who doesn't have that power," Yentieng


Asked about the future of Chakrapong and Sin Song, he repeated that only the King

had "the absolute right" to grant any amnesty.

Some political observers linked Sin Sen's release to the King's recent statement

that ill health could force him to step down and let Chea Sim, as National Assembly

president reign as Regent. A Regent would be given Royal powers, including amnesty.

Others suggested that the house arrest was accepted by Hun Sen as a compromise, in

the knowledge that the King could demand a total amnesty if necessary.

One observer suggested the King could look for a similar compromise for Sin Song

and Chakrapong - and later perhaps Prince Norodom Sirivudh, exiled recently in an

unrelated case.

Sin Sen was freed Mar 28 and escorted by armed police to his house, where preparations

for his arrival included blessings by Buddhist monks.

Several police officers remain stationed outside the house, allowing family and friends

to enter but turning back journalists.

The Ministry of Interior has yet to define the house arrest conditions, according

to a ministry official. But Sen would probably not have to return to jail if his

health improved.

The official indicated that the police guards at the house were there to protect

him from "any bad acts" as well as stop him leaving.

Secretary of State for Justice Uk Vithun (Funcinpec) said Sin Sen would be protected

because "he is a human being, a citizen like anyone else."

Sin Sen was unlikely to return to prison, barring any special circumstances such

as "insecurity", Vithun said. "The house arrest was the request of

His Majesty the King, so it doesn't seem it will change."

Meanwhile, Sin Song remains detained in Thailand - unable to find a country to accept

him in exile - after escaping Cambodia in Sept 1994. Chakrapong is in exile in France.

The objectives of the July 2, 1994 putsch, which seemed to be poorly planned and

was quickly subdued, are still a mystery.

The people allegedly involved were associated with the CPP-controlled security and

police forces of the Ministry of Interior.

Sin Sen was the former Undersecretary of State for the ministry, ironically promoted

to Secretary of State two days after the coup, before Sin Song allegedly implicated


Sin Song was a former National Security Minister who, along with Chakrapong, led

a secession movement after the 1993 election which was widely credited with forcing

Funcinpec to accept CPP in a coalition.

The King, before the coup attempt, said the pair were unhappy at not being rewarded

enough by Hun Sen for the secession.

One Khmer newspaper editor went to jail for suggesting CPP co-Interior Minister Sar

Kheng was involved in the coup. Kheng, days after the coup, said the plotters wanted

to give power to the King.

A witness at Sin Song's trial said the coup was to counter an unspecified plot to

bring back the Khmer Rouge, and there were also allegations of Thai involvement.

Sin Sen's subordinate, Tea Choy, and nine Thai nationals were convicted of conspiracy

after the coup but given suspended sentences.



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