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
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."