Logo of Phnom Penh Post newspaper Phnom Penh Post - Demonstrations spread through capital

Demonstrations spread through capital

Demonstrations spread through capital


Old enemies of Hun Sen pulling strings?


Several monks demonstrating Sept 8 near Psar Thmei escape in a blur of saffron as others are caught and beaten by riot police.

PRO-and anti-Hun Sen forces have committed themselves to a reckoning on the streets

of Phnom Penh. The specter of more violence, curfews and perhaps martial law is,

for some analysts, a worrying possibility.

Massed, highly mobile demonstrators are pitted daily against police and special units

commanded by Hun Sen loyalist General Hok Lundy, the chief of national police. The

governance and running of Phnom Penh is for now in tatters, but Hun Sen is said to

be single-minded and cold tempered in orchestrating his forces.

King Norodom Sihanouk made a plea Sept 10 for RCAF troops and police forces not to

use violence. In apparent response, plain-clothed and armed demonstrators loyal to

the CPP entered the street frays that same day.

The opposition Funcinpec and Sam Rainsy parties have, by their own admission, no

control. "Rainsy and I have given birth to a child and that child is growing

and has now taken over," Prince Norodom Ranariddh said Sept 10, "and without

a clear and consistent response from the [CPP] power, Rainsy and I are not able anymore

to control that child."

However, the massed protests are less "spontaneous" or "driven by

the people" as Ranariddh and others may publicly claim, though both phenomena

certainly exist. One Cambodian police official said: "All the forces who hate

Hun Sen have combined."

Diplomats and military analysts agree that the protests are obviously being coordinated

and managed - but not totally by either Rainsy or Funcinpec, who now lack such ability.

Key protesters carry walkie-talkies; perhaps four to five mobile command posts exist

to coordinate activities; and anti-Hun Sen leaflets are being dispersed each day.

The conspiracy - if that is indeed what it is - is tapping into whatever popular

public sentiment that first Rainsy and later Ranariddh stirred with their 17-day

'Democracy Square' sit-in.

"Even if [Ranariddh and Rainsy] want to call it off they can't do it anymore,"

the police source told the Post. "They are now just as much hostages of what

they helped create."

The names of former CPP generals Sin Sen and Sin Song - both convicted plotters in

the 1994 coup attempt and known to be anti-Hun Sen - are being bandied around as

alleged "masterminds". So too are Funcinpec resistance generals Nhek Bun

Chhay and Khan Saveoun, and "elements" within the Khmer Rouge, possibly

based in Kampong Thom, who have smuggled themselves into Phnom Penh by river.

During the State of Cambodia regime, Sin Song was Interior and Security Minister.

Sin Sen was his vice-minister. Both men are known to be architects of the A-teams,

the secret political police designed on the Vietnamese model that were used to intimidate

the opposition during the 1993 elections.

"They are still very respected within the police today," said a foreign

police expert. "Lots of colonels and mid-rankings police officers are still

loyal to them. Sin Sen has enough loyalties to be able to derail the chain of command."

The long-standing hatred between Sin Sen and Hun Sen has been often reported. The

1994 coup attempt reinforced the mistrust and Hun Sen succeeded in ridding Sin Sen

from authority.

However, before July's election, Sin Sen was reportedly making the rounds of the

provinces surveying the support he retained within the police. According to a diplomatic

source, Hun Sen demanded in April a series of conditions from the CPP - one of which

was to have Sin Sen isolated from Chea Sim's entourage.

Sin Sen later pledged support to Sam Rainsy. His whereabouts now are unknown, as

are Sin Song's.

"They only care about creating disorder in Phnom Penh... to push Hun Sen to

use big forces to kill people," one source said.

Monks have been politicized and the pagodas are now a prime target of riot police

trying to contain the demonstrations. International television broadcasts have led

with Cambodian images of monks and others being hosed, beaten and shot by police.

"It's the first time there's been this sort of disorder in Cambodia. The goal

of whoever is behind it has succeeded - social, economic and political life has just

stopped," said one official.

Hun Sen has been forced into moving against the protesters on behalf of the government

rather than his own party. "He can't call a cabinet meeting," said one

party insider, "because it might be divided in the way [the protests] should

be dealt with. Half [the CPP steering committee] might be against violence and therefore

Hun Sen would have to step back."

There is confirmation that military police were on the streets for the first time

Sept 10, as were units of the army's Indonesian-trained Division 911 and soldiers

from Kampong Cham and other provinces. All were active during the July 1997 coup

d'état against Ranariddh.

Lundy's police forces alone may not be sufficient to deal with what one political

adviser called "urban guerrilla tactics". However, he feared what "additional

political dimensions" the use of the army would have "on this crisis".

Defense Minister Tea Banh already refused Hun Sen's order to use soldiers to disperse

the opposition sit-in on Aug 28. RCAF Chief of General Staff Ke Kim Yan is, military

analysts say, as likely to resist pressure to order his soldiers into an urban police

action as he was during the coup.

The question, should the military be called in to control social order, is whether

Lundy has retained the same sort of control over the RCAF's regional command structure,

in Ke Kim Yan's absense, as he had last July.

The Post heard police commanders on an ICOM radio Sept 10 saying the only way to

stop the demonstrations was to identify key leaders on the street and "isolate"


Two bodies have already been found in graves around Pochentong Airport and human

rights workers and others fear that this method of "isolation" is exactly

the one that will be employed in the nights and days to come.

The ugly irony for many, however, is that even more firepower on the streets - and

possibly curfews and even martial law - may only be avoided by the "successful"

use of the methods to "isolate" and break the key leadership of the street


"Both sides have gone too far to take a backward step now," said the police

source, "and each day will bring more killings."

Sources said the struggle was to push Hun Sen out but no one believed that the Second

Prime Minister would be an easy target.

"Hun Sen cannot resign. If he loses power, he is dead. He has lots of enemies

and they would take revenge," said a diplomatic source.

The source added that Hun Sen could not show a moment of weakness in the current

situation. "[Until now] he had support because he is the strongest but if he

shows any hesitation his supporters will start wondering whether Hun Sen is still

the strongest, and maybe they could think it is time to switch alliance."


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