Logo of Phnom Penh Post newspaper Phnom Penh Post - From calendars to killing - the reporter's tale

From calendars to killing - the reporter's tale

From calendars to killing - the reporter's tale

I T all began with a visit to try to sell calendars of the King to Prince Norodom

Sirivudh.

He didn't buy any; in the end he was never asked to. The lure of a prospective sale

all became a bit trivial once the Prince turned the topic of conversation to plots

to kill Hun Sen.

He allegedly volunteered the information that he might personally shoot Hun Sen with

a shotgun on the grounds of the Royal Palace, or else give the "green light"

for others to bombard the Second Prime Minister's car with B40 rockets.

His two visitors left about 90 minutes later, calendars unsold, but one of them -

the Secretary-General of the Khmer Journalists Association - was convinced he had

a scoop.

Two weeks later, the story hit the streets in the fourth and so far final issue of

Angkor Thmei (New Angkor) newspaper. Within days, Hun Sen had urgently flown back

to Phnom Penh from Siem Reap, Sirivudh's two visitors were summoned for interviews

at Sen's Takmao fortress, and Sirivudh was thrown under arrest.

The saga might sound fantastic - and certainly it has its doubters who believe there

is more to it - but this is how events unfolded according to So Naro.

Secretary-General of the KJA, "political director" of Angkor Thmei and

part-time calendar salesman, Naro now finds himself apparently the prime witness

against Sirivudh.

Since he wrote the story on Sirivudh, he has acquired four bodyguards, courtesy of

the Ministry of Interior, and says he fears for his life. Rumor and criticism are

rife over his actions, and his motivations.

His co-witness, for one, is less than happy. Cheam Phary - the KJA's advertising

director, who apparently knew Sirivudh from their days in France - arranged and escorted

Naro's visit to the Prince.

At the KJA's office in Phnom Penh, the tension between Phary and Naro is heavy. Phary

is said to have tried to attack Naro at least once.

Phary - who, like it or not, is likely to be expected to testify against Sirivudh

if he goes to trial - would not comment to the Post. But Naro, after much deliberation,

sat down to tell his story

Naro says he went to see Sirivudh because, dabbling in the sale of calendars bearing

portraits of the King, he thought the Prince a likely customer.

He urged "the other guy" (Phary, whom Naro would not name) to arrange an

appointment with the Prince. Together they went to see him at Funcinpec headquarters

on Oct 26.

"We sat in a triangle around a table...and then we talked," says Naro.

"Most of the time he [Sirivudh] talked, not me. He talked about many things,

many problems: the poverty of the people, his upset at CPP, the prostitute that somebody

wanted to send him - I don't want to mention too much about that - about the Funcinpec

congress, about after the King's death, the big problems of that.

"Then he mentioned Hun Sen and he talked a lot. He said that Hun Sen pushed

him a lot and he expressed how he was upset about Hun Sen. Then he talked about the

plot. He said 'Some armed forces asked my permission to kill Hun Sen, they say that

democracy cannot go ahead with Hun Sen'.

"I knew that if I asked him who is involved, he would not answer me, so I just

let him talk."

Sirivudh, says Naro, detailed a proposal to ambush Hun Sen's car with B40 rockets

but said he had not given his approval.

"He said he had not yet given the green light - he used the words green light,

in English - but would wait until 1996. But if Hun Sen gave any trouble to [Sam]

Rainsy or to the KJA, he said 'I will take action.'

"He said 'Or I can go to the Royal Palace...I am a member of the Royal family,

so no-one will check me.'

"He said 'I could take a shotgun' - and he did the action, [pretending to put

a shotgun] under his jacket - 'and when I get close to Hun Sen, I will shoot him.'

"He said 'It does not matter what happens to me, if I can change the pages of

history.'"

Naro says Sirivudh told him: "Don't think [that because] Sirivudh wears glasses

means that Sirivudh dare not to do this," and spoke of shooting some of his

subordinates in Funcinpec border camps in the past.

Naro maintains that Sirivudh's comments were unsolicited - "suddenly he just

talked about it". He believes the Prince spoke frankly because his visitors

were from the KJA, and "he considers us a victim of Hun Sen."

Naro says he several times urged Sirivudh not to do anything drastic. As the meeting

ended the Prince said: "You will see in 1996 and then you remember."

But was Sirivudh joking or being serious? Naro won't give his opinion.

"If I say serious, it will be dangerous for me. If I say joking...we should

let the court decide. I keep silent."

He refuses to confirm or deny initial speculation that he secretly tape-recorded

Sirivudh's comments - "I value my life" is his only comment on that - but

several people close to him believe that he did not.

Asked if he can prove what Sirivudh said, Naro replies: "I'm going to prove

it in front of the court."

From virtually the moment he walked out of Sirivudh's office, Naro says, "I

thought I would write an article."

He did not do so immediately because he did not want to "cause trouble"

during the water festival and independence day celebrations.

He says he was shocked to read of the assassination of Israeli leader Yitzhak Rabin.

He feared that if Hun Sen were killed, many people would die and many more, including

himself, might be arrested.

The Nov 11 issue of Angkor Thmei - which had been just started by his friend Som

Dara - published Naro's version of Sirivudh's alleged comments.

The article did not say that Sirivudh was one of the plotters - instead praising

him for "effectively obstructing" the plot - but claimed that Angkor Thmei

knew the identities of those involved.

Reaction came quickly. Naro says he was visited by "the people from Samdech

Hun Sen", who took him to meet the Prime Minister at his heavily-guarded Takmao

residence.

Phary, in Battambang at the time, was flown to Hun Sen's house, where, unbeknown

to him, Naro was already in another room.

"He [Hun Sen] told me that at the time of the story he was in Siem Reap and

his people sent him a fax and he flew back immediately," says Naro.

"He said 'This case is very serious because it relates to my life. I have to

take strong action'. He told me to give him the true information, no less than I

know, and I reported to him just what I have told you.

"I didn't think it would be a big thing.... When I heard Hun Sen say this was

very serious, I realized this problem would get very big."

Concerned that "I could die at any time", he wrote to the Interior Ministry

asking for bodyguards. Since then, he says, he has grown "very nervous."

He is adamant that he is no more than a "non-partisan" journalist, and

is bitter at those who suggest otherwise.

Aged 30 and with a bachelor's degree in education, Naro spent seven years in Vietnam

after fleeing Cambodia when the Khmer Rouge took power in 1975.

He began his journalistic career on the Cambodian People's Party newspaper Pracheachon

in 1985. He later worked on the now defunct Kok Thlok with Long Pha (recently of

Forget News fame).

During the 1993 election campaign, he wrote to more than 20 parties offering to print

advertising articles supporting them in return for cash. Several parties, "especially

the CPP," agreed.

But he says he never joined a party - the closest he got was once visiting Funcinpec's

offices at the urging of friends a few years ago.

He is well aware that since his Angkor Thmei story, his reputation has been put through

the wringer. He adamantly denies he deliberately set up Sirivudh for political reasons,

or that he made a story out of something which wasn't one.

Others are not so sure. As one KJA official says: "Naro said the story was true

but it wasn't substantiated. It was sensational.

"I've heard the same things from Sirivudh - I didn't take it seriously."

Naro himself seemed to soften his position, when, in the last of three interviews

with the Post, he was pressed again on whether he took Sirivudh's comments seriously.

"If he says he talked to me but he [only] joked, no problem. I don't want to

cause trouble."

Naro appeared angry that Sirivudh had publicly denied meeting him, adding: "He

can say 'I talked to these guys, but they were younger generation and I was joking

with them.'

"Let the situation develop like that...but today he simply refuses [to say]

that he talked...I can't have it like that. I can prove he talked to me."

Earlier, Naro had insisted that he saw little choice but to publish Sirivudh's comments

because he feared there was a "plot" which could lead to bloodshed and

arrests.

"I'm very sorry I hurt him [Sirivudh] but this was the best way to solve the

problem - no people die."

He added: "I wish that in the future if anybody has a plot to assassinate anybody,

don't inform me. I don't want to know."

Meanwhile, Angkor Thmei - which Naro hoped would become a "best-seller"

because of the Sirivudh story - has not published since. "I don't want to pour

gas on the fire," Naro says.

And he continues to have a stockpile of calendars of the King. He had taken a sample

to show Sirivudh but was too "embarrassed" to show it to him after their

conversation.

Finding buyers might be a little harder now.

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