Former Sam Rainsy Party President Kong Korm, who in the 1980s succeeded Prime Minister Hun Sen as foreign minister before defecting to the opposition, said yesterday he had little doubt that the events of July 5 and 6, 1997, were a coup d’état.
Speaking at the Cambodia National Rescue Party’s headquarters to mark 20 years since the two bloody days that cemented Hun Sen as the country’s supreme leader, Korm said the ouster of First Prime Minister Prince Norodom Ranariddh said enough.
“Some say it was a dispute, while some others say whatever – but the final result was the first prime minister was removed, the second prime minister gained more power and the ones who were close to the first prime minister were all killed,” Korm said.
“Therefore, this was a coup d’état,” he said, pointing to the tight control Hun Sen has maintained ever since. “We still have this problem today.”
Lu Lay Sreng – who became information minister for the royalist Funcinpec party after Prince Ranariddh returned from self-exile to compete in the 1998 national election and form a new coalition government with Hun Sen – said he could never forget July 1997.
“It was my friends who died, and that night we had been sleeping all together, and the only ones that escaped were me and Nhek Bun Chhay,” Sreng said, referring to Funcinpec’s top general in 1997, who became co-defence minister in a new coalition deal between Funcinpec and the CPP after the 2003 election.
Hun Sen dismissed Chhay as co-defence minister in 2006, breaking the coalition deal, and Lay Sreng said the events of 1997 and Hun Sen’s repeated toying with Funcinpec in the decade after showed that Hun Sen and his associates could not be trusted.
“The law is only in their mouth, and they can do whatever they want,” Lay Sreng said. Yet he also told attendees that July 1997 was in many ways inevitable after the flawed coalition deal of 1993 that installed two prime ministers.
“To put it simply, one mountain cannot have two tigers.”
Hun Sen and the CPP have long denied the events of 1997 constituted a coup, and have said the elimination of Prince Ranariddh, whose party won the 1993 elections, was necessary because they were themselves planning a coup against him and the CPP with the Khmer Rouge.