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Logo of Phnom Penh Post newspaper Phnom Penh Post - Sar Kheng: "We can survive this"

Sar Kheng: "We can survive this"

Co-Interior Minister Sar Kheng denied being involved in the July 2 coup plot

during his first-ever interview with a foreign journalist. The rising star of

the CPP claimed the plotters aimed to give power to the King. Sar Kheng spoke to
Nate Thayer.

Deputy Prime Minister and Co-Interior Minister

Sar Kheng has emerged in recent years as one of the most powerful members of the

government and a rising star in Cambodia's future political landscape.


has held a series of important posts within the Cambodian People's Party,

including the head of the powerful CPP organization portfolio, responsible for

approving appointments of all party positions. Therefore thousands of people owe

him their jobs.

Since the UN-sponsored elections, he has successfully

recruited a number of intellectuals and technocrats as advisors, and has made an

effort to grasp the new era of foreign relations and the post-Cold War scenario

in order to expand his ability to operate as a statesman.

In the

aftermath of the coup, rumors have swirled through the capital of his


On July 5, in his first interview ever with a foreign

journalist, Sar Kheng addressed this and other issues:

On his role in

suppressing the coup attempt.

I first received information on the

coup around 6 pm on Saturday July 2. Once I was told about the attempted coup I

coordinated the efforts of the joint authorities, especially the Royal Army,

under the direct command of Samdech Hun Sen.

Since we received

information on the attempted coup, along with [Co-Secretaries of State of the

Interior] Sin Sen and Kien Van, also along with the Co-Ministers of the national

Defense Ministry, as well as the chief of the general staff of the royal army,

we coordinated efforts to stop the coup until 5:30 am on Sunday, July


Under the direct command of the Second Prime Minister I ordered our

troops to counter and asked them [the rebel troops from Prey Veng] to go back to

their barracks. There were no other forces around the men, around the capital,

there were no forces at all, and so, as you might be aware, there was no

bloodshed, no exchange of fire and no use of force.

On the objective

and leaders of the coup plot.

They tried to arrest three

generals-Kreuch Yeum, Pan Thai, and Nyek Bun Chhay. The one to give this order

was General Sin Song. This is according to one general working under Gen Sin

Song and receiving orders directly from him. The objective of the coup authors

we don't know clearly. It is still under investigation. So far, we have arrested

only Gen Sin Song as the author of the coup.

According to what we have

intercepted from phone conversations, and other people, Chakrapong was involved

in the coup and his objective was to give power to the King.


allegations he was involved in the plot.

So far I have heard rumors

and speculation that the coup was initiated by the CPP. With you now, I want to

strongly deny these rumors. It has nothing to do with the CPP. We should not

interpret or speculate about this until the deliberations of the special

committee come out.

Really, I would like to know on what grounds they are

based. I can tell you that I am not directly or indirectly involved whatsoever

in this coup attempt.

But even with all this I have one thing to say. I

only knew about this event after it happened. As Minister of Interior, I should

have known before. I was not in control until after.

I have thought a lot

about this. I take responsibility and there will be reorganization to control

the situation in the future. The lesson I draw from this failed coup is I should

reorganize some departments in my Ministry so I can control the situation better

in the future.

Why did Hun Sen know at 1 pm about the coup attempt and

you, as Minister of Interior, not until 6 pm?

Well on the afternoon

on Saturday I was working as usual at my office receiving foreign guests. As I

told you I didn't know until 6 pm. The Second Prime Minister, didn't know until

3 pm, according to my information.

Well, even if Hun Sen didn't know

until 3 pm, why did it take the PM three hours to inform the Interior Minister

of a coup attempt underway?

Well the explanation may be that I cut off my

phone and usually don't work on Saturday afternoon. Even You Hokry knew only at

5 pm. I got a message from Samdech Hun Sen only when I came back to my house.

Sin Sen did not know until 5:30 pm.

Will there be more


Well, you know, if there will be more arrests in the coming

days it is up to the result of the investigation. You are right to say there

should be someone more powerful, powerful enough to launch a coup involved. But

they [Sin Song and Prince Chakrapong] before launched a secession. General Sin

Song commanded the Ministry of National Security for ten years. They know very

well how to launch a coup. They were commanders. But remember, the police forces

amount to 40,000 men. He got only two hundred. Not very


There are allegations that you have met Sin Song recently

and discussed the possibility of a coup.

In the past I already have

met Sin Song many times, not only recently. Once again I assure you that I have

never talked to Sin Song about the issue of a coup.

I want to just say

lastly that there are a lot of rumors, groundless, without any real facts. I

think they were intentionally created by a group of people to create divisions

among the politicians, among the people, among the leaders.

On how the

investigation will be conducted.

So the second Prime Minister just

appointed a special committee comprised of the Co-Ministers of Defense and the

Co-Ministers of Interior to conduct an investigation to find the real authors of

the coup and who are their accomplices.

This special committee will ask a

certain number of personalities - civilian and military alike - to come - like a

hearing. After the hearing process, we might know well what will happen


I just would like to give you one short remark. We were a little

late about the coup, but we quickly reacted to get the situation under control.

The coup now has been killed.

On the involvement of the Interior


You are right to know we got information about the

crossing [of armored vehicles and rebel troops at Neak Luong ferry] very late.

But I give firm assurance that the Ministry of Interior did not give any order

to allow the soldiers to cross the river.

This is to confirm to you there

was no permission from the Ministry of Interior. It was decided from the east of

the river. We have issued arrest warrants for three men, generals, who gave the

order from Prey Veng.

The [rebel] forces of course belonged to the

Ministry of Interior. But, as you are aware, Gen Sin Song was Minister of

National Security for ten years so he still may have more or less


On the status of Finance Minister Sam Rainsy and Foreign

Minister Prince Norodom Sirivuddh.

I have listened to international

and national politicians who tell me that around the world there is no

government where a minister can make remarks or conduct a policy against his

government. But Cambodia is complex and that is why the solution to the problem

is delayed.

Well, this afternoon we should debate the issue of outlawing

the Khmer Rouge at the National Assembly and other issues of difference of

policies of some ministers and their prime ministers.

But I think we have

to find a solution very soon. I don't know the solution but there are two

options: Either the government changes to adopt the policy of a minority or the

minority must leave the government. And I don't think that the goernment should

change its policy.

On the consequences of the coup.


think, like it or not, we will have, more or less, some consequences as a result

of this coup. But recall that the government has already passed through bigger

problems, or as big. We survived then. We solved them. We can survive this. We

will continue to solve the problem of national reconstruction and attract

foreign investment.



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