SON SANN, one of the Kingdom's most prominent elder statesmen, retired quietly from
the national assembly in mid-January after a high profile political career spanning
The 85 year-old leader of one faction of Cambodia's third largest party, the BLDP,
said he had resigned in case his brief attendances at assembly sessions undermined
respect for the parliament and set a "bad example for fellow members".
A former prime minister in the late 60s and president of Cambodia's 1952 National
Assembly, Son Sann served as a minister 17 times during his career which began as
deputy governor of Battambang.
Now a high counselor to the King, Son Sann lists his achievements as "a technician"
as his greatest successes. "I established the Foreign Ministry in 1949 and the
National Bank of Cambodia in just nine days in 1955, these were the high points,"
But the devout Buddhist will be remembered more for his political crusades - organizing
the resistance movement from the Thai border from 1979 - than as a civil servant.
By family tradition, linked closely to Cambodia's Royal family, Son Sann was placed
under house arrest in 1970 when Lon Nol toppled Prince Sihanouk.
"General Lon Nol sent me a letter asking me to stay in my house. I didn't mind.
I had a house full of orchids I had always been too busy to look after," he
Son Sann lists his failure to reconcile Lon Nol with the exiled Prince Sihanouk as
"the lowest mark in his career."
"Lon Nol agreed but Prince Sihanouk refused," he said.
Having left for Paris, Son Sann reportedly infuriated Cambodian republicans in the
mid-seventies when he flew back into the country unannounced, urging students and
colleagues to give up the war effort against Sihanouk and the Khmer Rouge.
Ok Serei Sopheak, an advisor to deputy prime minister Sar Kheng, worked with Son
Sann in Paris from 1975, trying to rally support for Cambodians trapped inside Pol
Pot's "killing fields".
"All credit should go to Son Sann during that period because he was the one
with the idea of creating a general front against the communist genocidal regime,"
Serei Sopheak said.
From 1975-79 Son Sann's Paris-based Association de General des Khmer a l'Etranger,
raised funds for general's leading various anti-Khmer Rouge resistance groups inside
He traveled to the Thai border in 1979 to spearhead an anti-Vietnamese guerrilla
war movement - the Khmer People's National Liberation Front (KPNLF).
"In the beginning it was hard, we had to use one evil [war] to fight another
evil. I asked permission of many Buddhist monks in Paris... they said if you don't
go many Cambodians will die so if you want to save them you have to go," Son
Son Sann said the move-ment's goal was national reconciliation and to protect Cambodians
against three main evils..." corruption, the Vietnamese invasion and the genocidal
Those goals have remained constants in Son Sann's career and have at times blinded
him to political realities, his detractors say.
Born in Kampuchea Krom and inspired by his ancestor Son Kuy, a renowned Cambodian
patriot from that region who was executed by the Vietnamese as a political agitator,
Son Sann has remained staunchly hardline in his views on Vietnam.
"I am not like the Khmer Rouge who claim there are three million Vietnamese
living in Cambodia but I say there are more than one million here, and they have
networks in all ministries," he said.
Information Minister Ieng Mouly, who heads an opposing faction of the now splintered
BLDP, said the rift occurred when Son Sann threatened to pull out of planned UNTAC
elections in 1993.
"He can incite people to fight but he cannot inspire unity," Mouly claims.
"He fought against Vietnam, the CPP, UNTAC, the Permanent Five even against
people in his own party.
"He stands for human rights, democracy, rule of law but how can you build those
things unless you make compromises to create stability," said Mouly.
Son Sann claims real national reconciliation will not be achieved until defecting
KR swear allegiance to Sihanouk rather than to either Prince Ranariddh or Hun Sen.
"At the moment Khmer Rouge forces joining the government are defecting to either
of the prime ministers which is creating the conditions for a continuation of the
civil war where the armed forces are split and politically aligned to competing parties,"
He said the only real reconciliation to end Cambodian suffering will be under the
King, "now it's the CPP and Ranariddh trying to make reconciliation for themselves."