KING Norodom Sihanouk says he is only awaiting a governmental "green light"
before pardoning Amnesty International prisoner of conscience Srun Vong Vannak, now
in jail for the murder of Hun Sen's brother-in-law.
"I have the honor of informing you that I submitted today to the high examination
of HE Mr Ung Huot and HE Samdech Hun Sen, First Prime Ministers of the Royal Government
of Cambodia, the case of Srun Vong Vannak, [as well as co-defendants] Suos Kasem
and Prum Meanrith," the King wrote in a May 11 statement released by fax on
May 19. "As soon as I have received the green light from the two Royal Government
leaders, I will not hesitate to sign a decree granting the Royal pardon."
Sam Rainsy loyalist Vannak and two co-defendants were convicted based on their confessions
and sentenced to at least 10 years each in prison for their purported roles in the
killing of Hun Sen's brother-in-law Kov Samuth in 1996. All three subsequently recanted
their confessions, saying they were coerced.
During talks in December between opposition figure Sam Rainsy's political party and
Hun Sen's CPP about a coalition government following the July elections, the Second
Prime Minister promised to seek a pardon for Vannak - a pardon which he appears to
have hedged upon in the ensuing five and a half months.
An adviser to Hun Sen has said that Vannak must exhaust all legal avenues before
the Second Prime Minister will seek the pardon. Vannak's appeal is set for May 27.
While the Constitution grants the King the right to grant pardons and reduce sentences
and does not specify that the appeal process must have any effect on it, he would
seek Hun Sen's permission before granting clemency, particularly in politically sensitive
Legal observers say the King has left himself open to criticism because he does not
fulfil his role as the constitutional guarantor of the independence of the judiciary,
and that if Vannak has been falsely imprisoned, he must be granted a Royal pardon
- with or without Hun Sen's prior approval.
One legal expert said that the King's unwillingness to stand up to a "corrupt
judiciary" could only undermine faith in the constitutional monarchy in the
Meanwhile, Royal family members have written Sihanouk asking him to pardon his son
Prince Nor-odom Chakrapong who was accused of leading a coup against the government
Chakrapong is now in exile in France. His family expressed hope that the March 21
pardon of Prince Norodom Ranariddh - upon the request of his close family - might
mean their father's name could also be cleared.
"[We] ask for Your Majesty's intervention on grounds of humanity for the Royal
pardoning of our father," said a March 23 letter from the Chakrapong family
and signed by his son Norodom Buddhapong. The letter was published in the most recent
issue of the King's monthly bulletin.
Chakrapong, 52, was a high-ranking CPP member elected as the National Assembly representative
for Kampong Cham in the 1993 election. He gave up his seat when he contested the
election results before leading an aborted secession effort.
It was alleged he led the failed coup attempt in July 1994. He was subsequently permitted
to flee into exile and kicked out of the CPP before the Phnom Penh Military Court
convicted him in absentia for his actions and sentenced him to 20 years in prison.
Unlike his older brother, Rana-riddh, who was cleared of military court convictions
that amounted to treason - although he denied breaking the law - the Chakrapong family
acknowledged their father's wrongdoing.
"We plead for Your Majesty's forgiveness where we have erred," said the
While CPP spokesman Khieu Kanharith said the King has yet to pass on the request
from Chak-rapong family to Hun Sen, he suggested a pardon for Chakrapong was unlikely
to take place any time soon.
"It is better to wait until after the election," said Kanharith.