A mystery at the time, and to some a legend even today, the narrow escape and 17-day
flight of former Funcinpec General Nhek Bun Chhay -from the fighting in Phnom Penh
to the royalist enclave of O'Smach-remains an enigma.
Immediately after the July 5-6, 1997 shootout, Bun Chhay's whereabouts were unknown.
Many speculated that the Funcinpec-appointed deputy chief of staff of the RCAF had
been one of the many top royalists who had been captured and summarily executed.
But almost three weeks later he resurfaced in command of the remaining Funcinpec
forces as they mounted their final stand in O'Smach.
Bun Chhay's flight is the stuff of myth. As the story goes, he had taken off his
bulletproof vest and put on a jacket with lucky charms in the pockets. According
to soldiers who were with him, this "magic" jacket enabled him to cheat
death. Some have said that they saw bullets bounce off
him. Later, Bun Chhay laughed at the claim, but agreed he was very lucky.
"At one point there was a little clump of trees about two meters square. Me
and one other guy stayed inside that square, while Hun Sen's soldiers walked past
us about three or five meters away," Bun Chhay told the Post on August 8, 1997.
"They didn't find me. Before I didn't believe in this magic thing, but now I
believe that something was helping me."
In Bun Chhay's account, he left Phnom Penh with about 400 soldiers then broke into
smaller groups to avoid capture, traveling on foot through the provinces with about
"There were four or five attacks on us by Hun Sen's forces," Chhay said.
"They arrested or killed most of the soldiers I was with. When I got to O'Smach
there were only three of us left. Two were my bodyguards, one was me."
He traveled on foot for 15 days from Phnom Penh to Pursat, then two grueling days
by motorbike to O'Smach. For a week he went without food and lost 15 kg over the
"I was not injured, but my body was exhausted, very exhausted. I had malaria
during my journey, but I was very lucky because it was not very bad. When I got here
[O'Smach], I just lay down and slept for two days."
Bun Chhay was the most powerful commander in the Funcinpec forces and Hun Sen reportedly
cursed his generals for allowing him to escape. His flight was extraordinary, as
so few of his comrades had escaped the capital. During and immediately after the
fighting many leading Funcinpec figures were arrested and in some cases shot.
At the time the now deputy prime minister and secretary general of Funcinpec had
nothing but vitriol for Hun Sen. "He is very cruel and worse than Pol Pot,"
Bun Chhay told the Post. "I really never thought that Hun Sen would be as savage