THE King last week won the prison release of convicted July 1994 coup plotter Sin
Sen for "health reasons", after a long campaign to get him freed.
Within a month of the former Interior Ministry chief being sentenced to 18 years
in prison in late 1994, the King began seeking a total or partial amnesty for Sin
The King's efforts - in line with his Constitutional power to grant amnesty - were
opposed by Second Prime Minister Hun Sen for more than a year.
Sin Sen was finally freed from T3 prison Mar 28, on the grounds he was ill, into
what was described as "house arrest" or "residential custody"
at his Phnom Penh home.
The house arrest - requested by the King and apparently approved by Hun Sen - has
no time limit. Government officials say he is likely to stay out of prison for good.
Sin Sen, 17 months into his 18-year sentence, was the only person in prison in Cambodia
for the coup bid.
Convicted coup leaders Prince Norodom Chakrapong and Sin Song, sentenced in absentia
to 20 years' prison, are abroad. Chakrapong left in exile and Sin Song escaped to
Thailand, where he remains detained, his future uncertain.
All three men have had about 10 years' cut off their prison sentences by successive
Royal decrees, but it is unclear whether Sin Sen's release will smooth the way for
the others' return to Cambodia.
The trio, all from Hun Sen's Cambodian People's Party (CPP), were tried and sentenced
by the Phnom Penh Military Court on Oct 28, 1994.
In a Nov 23, 1994 letter to National Assembly president Chea Sim and co-Prime Ministers
Hun Sen and Prince Norodom Ranariddh, the King proposed amnesty for Sin Sen.
The King, acting on a request from Sin Sen's wife, asked that amnesty be considered
for Sin Sen because his fellow plotters had managed to escape his fate.
In a Dec 3, 1994 reply to the King, Chea Sim said that "we respect very much
your request", but fell short of agreeing to it.
In April 1995, the King wrote to Chea Sim saying that he would be able to sign an
amnesty decree for Sin Sen if both Prime Ministers agreed.
But he added that if Sin Sen was amnestied, it was "reasonable and just"
that Chakrapong and Sin Song also be. The Prime Ministers' approval would be needed
for that too.
Ranariddh, according to senior government sources, supported the King's proposal,
as did Chea Sim, who is president of the CPP. Hun Sen, however, opposed any amnesty.
In the face of Hun Sen's resolve, the King changed tack. In June 1995, he signed
a decree which cut two years off the sentences of Sin Sen, Sin Song and Chakrapong,
and later signed at least two other such decrees. Sources say a total of 10 years
was knocked off each of their sentences.
The King never granted total amnesty to any of the three. Though the Constitution
clearly gives the King the "right to grant partial or complete amnesty",
in practice he prefers to have the agreement of the Prime Ministers.
The King again wrote to Hun Sen and Ranariddh several months ago, referring to a
letter from Sin Sen's wife that said her husband was sick and would be better off
A decision was apparently delayed by the political turmoil over the arrest of Prince
Norodom Sirivudh, who coincidentally lived next door to Sin Sen's house.
The instruction to transfer Sin Sen to his home was given this month by the Council
of Ministers, which is headed by the Prime Ministers, at the King's request. It apparently
did not involve a Royal decree.
Om Yentieng, an adviser to Hun Sen, would not say whether the Second Prime Minister
had approved Sin Sen's release. "The King asked for the release...there is no
use in paying attention to somebody else who doesn't have that power," Yentieng
Asked about the future of Chakrapong and Sin Song, he repeated that only the King
had "the absolute right" to grant any amnesty.
Some political observers linked Sin Sen's release to the King's recent statement
that ill health could force him to step down and let Chea Sim, as National Assembly
president reign as Regent. A Regent would be given Royal powers, including amnesty.
Others suggested that the house arrest was accepted by Hun Sen as a compromise, in
the knowledge that the King could demand a total amnesty if necessary.
One observer suggested the King could look for a similar compromise for Sin Song
and Chakrapong - and later perhaps Prince Norodom Sirivudh, exiled recently in an
Sin Sen was freed Mar 28 and escorted by armed police to his house, where preparations
for his arrival included blessings by Buddhist monks.
Several police officers remain stationed outside the house, allowing family and friends
to enter but turning back journalists.
The Ministry of Interior has yet to define the house arrest conditions, according
to a ministry official. But Sen would probably not have to return to jail if his
The official indicated that the police guards at the house were there to protect
him from "any bad acts" as well as stop him leaving.
Secretary of State for Justice Uk Vithun (Funcinpec) said Sin Sen would be protected
because "he is a human being, a citizen like anyone else."
Sin Sen was unlikely to return to prison, barring any special circumstances such
as "insecurity", Vithun said. "The house arrest was the request of
His Majesty the King, so it doesn't seem it will change."
Meanwhile, Sin Song remains detained in Thailand - unable to find a country to accept
him in exile - after escaping Cambodia in Sept 1994. Chakrapong is in exile in France.
The objectives of the July 2, 1994 putsch, which seemed to be poorly planned and
was quickly subdued, are still a mystery.
The people allegedly involved were associated with the CPP-controlled security and
police forces of the Ministry of Interior.
Sin Sen was the former Undersecretary of State for the ministry, ironically promoted
to Secretary of State two days after the coup, before Sin Song allegedly implicated
Sin Song was a former National Security Minister who, along with Chakrapong, led
a secession movement after the 1993 election which was widely credited with forcing
Funcinpec to accept CPP in a coalition.
The King, before the coup attempt, said the pair were unhappy at not being rewarded
enough by Hun Sen for the secession.
One Khmer newspaper editor went to jail for suggesting CPP co-Interior Minister Sar
Kheng was involved in the coup. Kheng, days after the coup, said the plotters wanted
to give power to the King.
A witness at Sin Song's trial said the coup was to counter an unspecified plot to
bring back the Khmer Rouge, and there were also allegations of Thai involvement.
Sin Sen's subordinate, Tea Choy, and nine Thai nationals were convicted of conspiracy
after the coup but given suspended sentences.