Asked whether it was the most dangerous journey of his military life, Nhek Bun
Chhay leans back in his chair and says 'Yes' with a broad grin. After 17 days on
the run, Bun Chhay emerged - exhausted, malaria-struck and 15kg lighter - at the
Thai border late last month. The Funcinpec military chief spoke to Jason Barber
at the border town of O'Smach Aug 8. An edited transcript:
Nhek Bun Chhay: I left Phnom Penh on the 6th and arrived here on the 23rd
of July. My travel was very, very difficult... They [CPP] used a lot of forces, approximately
3,000-4,000 soldiers, to try to capture me. When I left Phnom Penh, I had 400 soldiers
who came with me. To travel with a lot of forces, it is very difficult to hide, so
we had to separate. We split into smaller groups. Some soldiers hid their weapons
and changed their uniforms to civilian clothes. There were about 70 soldiers who
came with me, in my group. There were four or five attacks on us by Hun Sen's forces.
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.
I would like to give the names of some of those who were captured and killed: Kroch
Yoeum, Ly Seng Hong, Maen Bun Thon, Chao Sambath, and Col Thlang Sovannarith from
Battambang. All these people were killed. The way they killed these people was very
cruel. As for Gen Chao Sambath, I have been told that they pulled out his nails and
pushed his chin up to cut off his tongue. The rest of them, they tied up and shot.
I traveled [15 days] from Phnom Penh to Pursat, arriving on the 21st of July. From
Pursat to here, I traveled by motorcycle. It took two days. I was supported by some
of Hun Sen's forces who still like and believe in me.
How did they support you?
They let me ride on the motorcycle. That's why I am here.
There have been many rumors about you, including from some soldiers who were with
you and were captured. One story was that you were shot in the back, and you fell
down but you got up again and kept moving?
No, no. They shot very close to me but they didn't shoot me. They shot five or
10 meters from me.
Another story was that you had a bullet proof jacket on and you took it off and
you put on an ordinary jacket, with some good luck charms on it?
Yes, that's right [laughs]. You know, 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. They didn't find
me. Before, I didn't believe in this magic thing, but now I believe that something
was helping me.
Was this the toughest, most dangerous journey of your years as a soldier?
Yes. It was tough. I didn't even have food for one week. I was not injured, but
my body was exhausted, very exhausted [laughs]. I had malaria during my journey,
but I was very lucky because it was not very bad. When I got here, I just lay down
and slept for two days.
Do you know how much weight you lost?
15 kilograms. I was 80 kg; now I'm 65.
What was going through you mind when you were running? What kept you going?
My motivation was that a lot of people, especially the members of the opposition
parties like BLDP, Funcinpec, and KNP have been threatened and killed, punished by
Hun Sen. So I made myself clear that I had to survive and run to O'Smach and protect
the people who need democracy and freedom.
I want to make it clear that I am continuing to fight for freedom, for democracy
in Cambodia. The way Hun Sen plays games is just a trick, just magic to hide behind,
to show the people that he has democracy. But there is no democracy. The people have
been punished and threatened. These people need protection. I am very confident that
good always wins over bad, and I believe strongly that my fight for democracy and
freedom will prevail one of these days, and that we will find real democracy and
peace for Cambodian people.
I would also like to inform you why Hun Sen used force to oust Funcinpec from Phnom
Penh. The first point is a very important one. Hun Sen accused us of negotiating
with the Khmer Rouge of Anlong Veng. We were negotiating for peace, to get them to
join with the Royal government, just like the other areas which Hun Sen did before,
or that we did before, in Malai and Pailin. The other important thing that is that
we wanted to get Pol Pot given to the international tribunal. We didn't want to give
Pol Pot to the court in Phnom Penh. The court in Phnom Penh is not independent and
free. And Hun Sen, he was very scared to get Pol Pot before an international tribunal.
Pol Pot, he already made a clear statement that he takes responsibility for what
happened during the Pol Pot regime. The authority who killed the Cambodian people
at that time was the Khmer Rouge who were allied with the Vietnamese. Hun Sen was
a Khmer Rouge allied with the Vietnamese; he has responsibility for the people killed
during 1975. Hun Sen is very scared that if Pol Pot goes to trial, they will call
his [Hun Sen's] name and show that he was involved in killing the Cambodian people.
The Khmer Rouge in Anlong Veng has been changed since Pol Pot was arrested. They
changed the system...they want to join with the Royal government. Right now, they
want to restructure and change the uniform from the old uniform to the new uniform.
Now we still continue to try to get Pol Pot sent to an international trial.
The second reason [for Hun Sen's attack on Funcinpec] is the drug trafficking. We
uncovered documentation, which we handed over to the foreign embassies, showing that
the big people involved in drug trafficking was Theng Boon Ma and Mong Reththy. This
was why when they captured [Funcinpec Interior Ministry official] Ho Sok, Hun Sen
ordered [National Police chief] Hok Lundy to kill Ho Sok right away, because Ho Sok
had a lot of documentation about the drugs. The money generated from the drugs, Hun
Sen used to build schools, to negotiate with the Khmer Rouge, to offer some money
to them, and especially to buy some generals and Funcinpec senior officials. Some
money he gave to the Thai officials here to support him and put pressure on us. Some
[Funcinpec] officials escaped to Thailand and were threatened by the Thai officers
and sent back to Cambodia and were killed by Hun Sen.
Can you give me the names of these people killed?
There were many; I can't remember their names.
The third issue is the grenade attack on March 30 in Phnom Penh. After the investigation
of the FBI found out that Hun Sen's bodyguard was the prime suspect, Hun Sen was
very worried. The fourth thing is the election. Hun Sen knew he was going to lose
the election. He said he wants the election but he never wants to lose the election.
All these points make Hun Sen act by military force.
Did you have any advance warning of Hun Sen's attack on Funcinpec in Phnom Penh?
Yes, we were aware of that. I know that when Hun Sen went to Hanoi [before the attack],
he went there to ask the Vietnamese government to [provide] ammunition and forces.
He asked... to use the undercover Vietnamese forces who were in Phnom Penh, working
for construction companies and in rubber plants, and some are moto drivers. These
people are approximately 5,000 Vietnamese. At one temple on Route No1...there were
a lot of bodies of Vietnamese soldiers... But [some of] the graves there were not
for the bodies of the dead people; there were guns buried there, so they just [dig
them up] and take them.
You believe that undercover Vietnamese soldiers took part in the attack on [Bun
Chhay's Phnom Penh base] Tang Krasang?
There was heavy shelling at Tang Krasang. Did you think at the time you would
never get out of there alive?
Of course, I was worried. But I decided to move forward to try to help the people
at the residence of Prince Ranariddh, because they needed help. I didn't even arrive
there. The soldiers there were scared [and surrendered].
You said that Hun Sen was able to buy some senior Funcinpec military officers.
Was that one reason why some Funcinpec forces surrendered quickly in Phnom Penh?
I have only a little blame for senior Funcinpec officers who were bought off.
It was only a few people, so I only have a little disappointment.
In Phnom Penh, when Hun Sen's forces attacked, did you think that you would be
able to hold on to part of Phnom Penh for long?
Yes, at the beginning I believed strongly that I could hold part of Phnom Penh.
But later I knew that if I continued to hold on, a lot more people were going to
be killed. So I decided to withdraw. And we heard that the King and Chea Sim had
called for a cease-fire. I'm the one who stopped fighting.
Your reaction to the executions of people like Ho Sok?
I was very disappointed and upset. I have regret and surprise that Hun Sen has
killed a lot of people. I thought Pol Pot was the murderer and was terrible and killed
a lot of people. But during the fighting and after the fighting, I saw that Hun Sen
is worse than Pol Pot 100 times. He killed not only Ho Sok but innocent people. Hun
Sen's forces not only killed the men who are soldiers, but he killed the families
of Funcinpec soldiers. Whole families, women and children. Women have also been raped
by Hun Sen's forces in Samrong and Siem Reap.
I presume you've met [senior resistance chiefs] like Serey Kosal and Lay Vireak
since you got here. Where they surprised to see you alive?
Yes, almost all my old friends they were very surprised to see me. They said 'You're
still alive!'. Not only my few friends you mentioned... but even the ordinary soldiers.
They gain confidence and they have the strength to fight to defend democracy.
How far away are Hun Sen's forces now? Will they try to capture O'Smach?
From here to Hun Sen's forces is about 40km. I strongly believe that Hun Sen forces
cannot come and capture this area. All our officers and soldiers are very angry and
very hurt about what Hun Sen did. We are very confident that we will provide protection
for the people here. A few days ago there were some small attacks. But I believe
in the next couple of days there will be big fighting because we know that Hun Sen
sent approximately 3,000 troops to attack us.
How many soldiers do you have?
Right now, in this area, we have 25,000 soldiers.
And how much food and ammunition do you have?
Enough to last three months.
Do you think that there can be a diplomatic, political solution...to allow Prince
Ranariddh and other senior Funcinpec people back to Phnom Penh, or do you think that
there is no hope but a military solution?
I prefer to solve this problem by diplomatic or peaceful ways. We don't want to
have to use force. But we have to keep some forces for our protection.
You do not expect to mount attacks on Hun Sen's forces?
We don't want to make a move, we don't want people to get killed. We just defend
our territory, and see how we can solve this problem by peaceful means.
Have you been able to meet or speak with Prince Ranariddh?
Yes. By telephone.
What did he ask you to do?
The Prince's advice was to restrain our forces and save all the forces and defend
Are you working with the Khmer Rouge of Anlong Veng?
As I mentioned earlier, there is no Khmer Rouge since Pol Pot was sentenced. These
forces have already changed, like those in Samlot, Pailin, Malai through to Preah
Vihear. They are very clear that whoever fights and kills the Cambodian people is
the enemy of the Cambodian people. After Hun Sen kills the Funcinpec people, they
know whether or not Hun Sen will kill them.
So already you have been able to work with them?
The forces of Anlong Veng, Malai, Pailin and our force have the same objective.
Each [force acts] individually, but we have the same objective, to fight Hun Sen's
You think the forces of Pailin and Malai are in agreement with Funcinpec forces?
Yes, we are the same.
You consider the territory controlled by anti-Hun Sen forces to include the north
of Cambodia down to Malai and Pailin?
From Preah Vihear to Samlot.
At what point, if no diplomatic solution is found, do you think all the forces
in those areas would attack Hun Sen?
Soon. We are going to attack and recapture some provinces.
You have been a soldier for many years, with experience in the 1980s resistance.
Does this feel like going back in time for you?
Yes. But I'm stronger than before. Before it took 10 years. Now, this will take
a very short time, no more than three or fours months. I strongly believe that I
am going to win this fight. Number one, our territory is bigger than before when
we started [in the 80s], number two we have enough forces, number three we have the
support from the people inside and outside Cambodia. The Cambodian people need the
democratic system, not the communist system. I believe they will resist.
What do you think of the appointment of a new Prime Minister, Mr Ung Huot?
First, it is illegal. This is just a little trick of Hun Sen and Ung Huot is just
like a cartoon. Hun Sen just wants to play the game with the international community
and the Asean countries. From the information I received yesterday, all the senior
Funcinpec in Phnom Penh, like ministers, except for Ung Huot, they all have their
own bodyguards. Except Ung Huot, he has Hun Sen bodyguards. For every senior Funcinpec
member in Phnom Penh, they are in a dangerous position right now. Hun Sen will try
to find a way to accuse them and take them one by one to court.
Are you disappointed with senior Funcinpec officials who remain in Phnom Penh
and seem to be going along with Hun Sen?
I'm not really disappointed. A small part of Funcinpec has been bought off by
Hun Sen. But most of the senior Funcinpec in Phnom Penh are trying to work with Hun
Sen because they were threatened. They try to find a way to survive. They couldn't
even find a way to escape... Even the Thai visas, Hun Sen told [Thailand] not to
give visas to Cambodian people. So they have been intimidated and threatened, little
If you could say something to Hun Sen, if you could see him right now, what would
I've got nothing to say to him because he is very cruel and worse than Pol Pot. I
really never thought that Hun Sen would be as savage as this.