T WO weeks after factions in the government stifled an alleged coup plot
involving-at the least-powerful elements of the security forces, jittery leaders
are privately accusing each other of betrayal and internal power plays, rocking
the already fragile coalition government.
While more questions were
raised than answered by the government's explanation for the coup bid, the move
has forced to the surface simmering tensions within the
While the government leadership remains intact on paper,
the aftermath of the coup has exposed a traumatic-and dangerous-split in the
Cambodian People's Party-the dominant factions within the coalition.
comes weeks after a public split within Funcinpec, the other main partner in the
While several senior officials of the CPP connected to the
powerful Interior Ministry have been arrested or accused, it is accepted by
diplomats and senior government officials from both parties that a much larger
story of skullduggery, backstabbing, and Machiavellian politics between senior
political figures lies at the root of the affair.
Some believe the coup
attempt had a three-fold objective, firstly against Funcinpec, secondly against
the King's recent initiative to assume temporary authority, thirdly, perhaps,
against CPP Co-Prime Minister Hun Sen.
According to this theory, this was
a conspiracy to consolidate control over the government by powerful factions
within the CPP allied to the CPP tightly-controlled security services and Sar
Others were convinced that Hun Sen organized a fake coup plot to
undermine the growing power of his CPP colleagues, who he feared were seizing
real control over the state and party at his expense.
What is apparent is
that the events were, as a senior Party official said, "an internal CPP
While confirmed facts are scarce and rumors and speculation
abound, the events appeared to evolve sometime around 1 pm on Saturday, July
It was then that Secretary of State for Defense Chhay Sung Yung
approached the chief of the military court with an order to arrest three senior
generals of the Defense Ministry-Gen Pan Thai, Gen Nyek Bun Chay, and Gen Kreuch
Yeum. The military court official was skeptical that the order had real
authority and informed Hun Sen, who then ordered Chan Sung Yung to his
residence. All three generals were from non-CPP former resistance factions who
controlled significant troops in the new integrated army that emerged after
The objective of the arrests was to prevent army-which is not
under the full control of the CPP-from mobilizing opposition to the coup makers.
The men alleged to be coup plotters by the government are mostly associated with
the CPP-controlled security apparatus from the Ministry of Interior and the army
appeared to play only a minor role in the affair.
The failure of the
attempt to arrest the three generals began the unraveling of the plot, with
details provided by Chhay Sung Yung's confession.
He is said to have
implicated Sin Song and Prince Chakropong in the plot, before Hun Sen allowed
him-inexplicably-to leave, whereupon he fled to Vietnam.
At 5 pm on July
2, 12 armored personnel carriers and under 300 troops, said to be loyal to Sin
Song, left the eastern province of Prey Veng and headed for the capital to
launch a coup against the government.
Hun Sen consulted Minister of
Justice Chem Sngoun, who said despite Gen Chay Sung Yung having fingered Sin
Song, there were insufficient grounds to arrest the former National Security
But once the movement of troops had been confirmed, the arrest
order was approved.
According to several sources, Hun Sen failed to
notify Co-Prime Minister Prince Norodom Ranariddh until 5 pm or his Minister of
Interior Sar Kheng until 6 pm-hours after the alleged coup bid
Importantly, Sar Kheng, who as Interior Minister ultimately controls
the important secret police and security forces, was not informed of the coup
attempt for a full five hours after his CPP colleague and Prime Minister, Hun
Sen, began plans to quell the plot.
Government and diplomatic sources say
that is clear that Sar Kheng was not informed because either Hun Sen suspected
that he had a hand in the coup attempt, or that the Second Prime Minister was
orchestrating a complicated pot against Sa Kheng.
They say that even
after Sar Kheng was summoned to Hun Sen's residence-the command center to quell
the coup-he was not given authority to supervise his duties as head of the
interior ministry until the plot was quelled.
In what analysts see as a
highly unusual move, CPP leader Hun Sen used Funcinpec forces-co-minister of
Interior You Hokry and his Funcinpec associates and those of former KPNLF
General Pan Thai, to quell the coup attempt.
By dusk on Saturday night,
government troops took up positions at the homes of major government leaders in
Phnom Pneh, and word spread rapidly of a coup attempt overnight in the city.
Government officials and their families were warned to stay at home.
APCs and rebel troops were stopped by loyalist forces 25 km from Phnom Penh at
Dei Eth at 8 pm without a confrontation, and eventually allowed to return to
Government troops led by Gen Pan Thai, stormed the
houses of out-of-favor CPP leaders Prince Norodom Chakrapong and Sin Song and
seized a small amount of weapons and communication gear.
Security Minister Sin Song was arrested and former Deputy Prime Minister Prince
Chakrapong-after a several-hour standoff at the Regent Hotel off Monivong
Boulevard-was allowed to go into exile in Malaysia.
On the afternoon of
July 3 government spokesman Sieng LaPresse said that "one armed group led by Sin
song and Prince Chakrapong" attempted "to create disorder" and assassinate
senior government and military officials.
He said the threat had subsided
without any shots fired, and the rebel troops had been allowed to return to
"Those guys realized they made the wrong move and want to
go back to serve the government," Lapresse said.
Government leaders moved
quickly to contend that a major threat to the coalition had been
"We arrested Sin Song because he had confessed to what he had
done," Co-Minister of Interior You Hokry told the Post on July 3, "I think that
one or two people cannot do this kind of thing. There will be more arrests. But
this is a personal and individual act-this is not a CPP
Government officials fuelled confusion about the plot by giving
conflicting accounts about the motives of the two alleged
Coalition spokesmen said Sin Song had confessed and said the
reason he gave for the coup was that King Sihanouk had suggested bringing back
the Khmer Rouge in a government of national unity, which was, to him,
But Interior Minister Sar Kheng said: "According to what we
intercepted from phone conversations and other people was that Chakrapong was
involved in a coup and his objective was to give power to the King."
as confusingly Hokry told the Post on July 3, shortly before he escorted
Chakrapong to the airport, that: "We have no evidence to accuse him
[Chakrapong]. That is why we are letting him go."
What seems to be the
only consensus is that Chakrapong and Sin Song's involvement is the tip of the
iceberg of deeper plots within the government to stifle suspected opposition and
consolidate power from within.
Senior government sources involved in the
interrogation of Gen Sin Song-who allegedly controlled the small group of rebel
forces-say he has "threatened to reveal very high government officials who
supported him" On Tuesday July 5 one name he allegedly reveal was his colleague
Gen Sin Sen, the Secretary of State of the Interior Ministry,
who, along with Sing Song, holds great power and influence over the national
police units, was arrested at the airport on Wednesday, July 6, as he was
prepared to make a routine, pre-scheduled working visit to Malaysia. His bags
had already been loaded on the plane and he was waiting in the VIP
Sin Sen was arrested along with his powerful deputy, Gen Tes
Choy. Tes Choy controls the elite A-3 police forces and "protection" units,
responsible for security of leaders, VIPs and Phnom Penh.
All of the
officials implicated are known to have close links to the faction within the CPP
led by party President Chea Sim and Co-Interior Minister Sar Kheng.
Tuesday, July 7, at a highly charged private dinner of senior CPP officials Chea
Sim issued a stern warning to Hun Sen to end the arrests, or risk a backlash.
Hun Sen agreed, after it was clear that a push for more arrests would likely
result in armed conflict and a collapse of both the party and government,
On July 8 and 9, government leaders-including both Prime
Ministers and both Interior Ministers-in their first show of unity since the
events began, issued strong joint warnings to the media and officials against
"spreading rumors" that cause "divisions among the leadership" to try to stifle
what was by then an open secret that powerful figures in the government were
deeply embroiled in a power struggle.
They backed up their threat by
arresting Ngoun Noun, editor of the popular Khmer paper the Morning News, which
had insinuated in July 8 editions that Sar Kheng was involved in the
Whoever was behind the events starting on July 2, Cambodian
officials and diplomats acknowledge that there has indeed been serious talk of a
coup for several months among CPP officials upset with recent political
Sources confirm that the United States and others had wind
that coup plots were in the air for more than two months, and had specifically
informed government officials in recent weeks-including Sin Song and Sar
Kheng-that the United States would refuse to support any government that emerged
from a putsch.
Tensions within the government have increased dramatically
in recent weeks after King Norodom Siihanouk called in mid-June for a new
government, which would bring in the Khmer Rouge in an effort to end the civil
The CPP, in May during private party meetings, reacted strongly
against earlier suggestions by the King that the Khmer Rouge be included in a
national reconciliation government and that the King be given real powers to
administer the state.
Last week, at the prompting of the CPP, the
National Assembly officially outlawed the Khmer Rouge, in a move that directly
opposed the King's peace initiatives.
Divisions within Funcinpec, that
included a public split in June between Finance Minister Sam Rainsy along with
Foreign Minister Norodom Sirivuddh against party boss Prince Ranariddh, also
spelled to many in the CPP that the government was being allowed to get
The tension within the government in recent
weeks has caused serious concern among the CPP in particular that it could cause
the collapse of the fragile coalition of former enemies.
An internal CPP
document dated June 29 obtained by the Post, demands that all party members sign
an oath of loyalty to not criticize the government or Party.
of officials and members of the CPP must avoid directly or indirectly
criticizing the Royal Government, which will only hinder the process of national
reconstruction and serve the advantage of the enemy," said the
It was in this atmosphere that some intelligence analysts and
government officials concluded that the coup was organized at the highest level
by dominant figures within the CPP to attain an iron grip over the government
after weeks of open dissent among government officials.
former communist party installed by Vietnam-are unused to debate or dissent that
has been forced on them in the wake of the UN-organized elections that created a
multiparty system of former battlefield enemies within the
According to supporters of this theory, the CPP coup
plotters-which included, among others Sin Song, Sin Sen, and had, at the least,
the knowledge and tacit approval of Sar Kheng and Chea Sim-planned to seize
temporary power but retain the National Assembly and Constitution so as to
preserve the image of success of the $2 billion dollar Untac mission and
maintain the flow of foreign aid.
This theory then has a cowed National
Assembly electing a new Prime Minister, likely to have been Sar Kheng, according
Sar Kheng denied to the Post any prior knowledge or
involvement of the coup plots.
Evidence suggests, according to these
sources, that the coup plotters were to rely on the highly politicized national
police force under the Ministry of Interior.
The post has learned that
thousands of new style military uniforms were covertly delivered from Thailand
in recent weeks, and were said to be targeted to outfit the police forces to
replace the army in the event of a successful coup.
diplomats, and government officials say they have strong evidence that both
Chakrapong and Sin Song had traveled to Vietnam and Thailand in recent weeks
seeking support for launching a coup.
But diplomats and even government
officials themselves agreed that neither Chakrapong nor Sin Song had either a
political power base nor controlled sufficient armed forces to launch a coup
"I have no power and I have no forces. How can I make a
coup?" Chakrapong said while holed up in a hotel room surrounded by troops
during the waning hours of the drama on July 3.
Many suggested that the
two leaders this time had been promised support, and then betrayed by more
powerful figures within the ruling government.
"These two people are not
stupid. If they were to launch a coup, they would not do alone," said a senior
Sar Kheng, considered one of the most powerful
figures in both the CPP and the government, gave credence to this view in an
interview with the Post on July 5.
He said: "You are right to say there
should be someone powerful enough to launch a coup involved. That is why we will
He said the government would form a military
inquiry board to seek other plotters out.
But he acknowledged he himself
has been the target of suspicion.
"We want to clarify some speculation
you may have heard that His Excellency Sar Kheng was involved in that [coup]
attempt," government spokesman Lapresse said on July 3, "Not so. When the
attempt took place Sar Kheng was in the Prime Minister's residence."
Kheng also denied involvement during his interview with the Post. "I can tell
you that I am not directly or indirectly connected whatsoever in the coup
"I have one thing to say. I only knew about this event after it
happened. As Minister of Interior I should know before. I was not in control
Analysts say that if a coup involving Chakrapong and Sin
Song was indeed planned, there had to have been figures with political
legitimacy to lead a new government, and that neither of the figures would have
attempted a coup without the support of more powerful figures.
accused plotters led an aborted secessionist movement of seven eastern provinces
in June 1993 in protest of UN-organized elections which saw their party lose to
the royalist Funcinpec.
The movement then had the covert backing of their
Cambodian People's Party leaders-including Hun Sen, Chea Sim, and Sar Kheng-and
resulted in forcing the fragile power sharing arrangement of the current
Sources told the Post that Vietnam informed
Cambodian leaders of the plot after Sin song and Chakrapong went to Hanoi in
recent weeks seeking weapons. The two were also said to have gone to Thailand on
a similar mission.
While gaping holes remained in the government version
of who was ultimately involved in the coup attempt, Cambodian leaders suggested
Thailand had a hand in the affair. Fourteen Thais detained at Pochentong on July
3 were investigated for links to Sin Song.
"We are waiting for one
witness that told us that there are nine Thai specialists on radio
communications, on weapons, on explosives who are now in Cambodia," First Prime
Minister Ranariddh said on July 7.
The accusations have severely strained
an already dismal relationship with Thailand after months of Cambodian
accusations of official Thai support for the Khmer Rouge.
has emerged, according to diplomatic and government sources, that senior Thai
officials were aware of the coup attempt and had consulted with the plotters in
There is no proof that the Thai officials were acting with
the approval of the Thai government.
Diplomats and government officials
say there are also unconfirmed reports that weapons shipments arrived to the
coup plotters via Thailand in the days before the coup.
analysts agree is that there has been treachery within the ranks of the coup
plotters and between government leaders, and the real powers behind the turmoil
have yet to emerge.
But some observers contend that, even though it is
expected eventually to become clear who were the real powers behind the move,
they may remain too powerful to confront without risking a real collapse of the
government and it may take months before the real story emerges.