THE chairman of Royal Air Cambodge, Pan Chanta, yesterday confirmed he had been fired
as head of the national airline following the delay of the King and Queen's flight
to Beijing on Tuesday, August 1.
Hun Sen strides angrily around the tarmac at Pochentong beside a large pool of fuel that gushed from the wing of the plane that was about to take the King and Queen to Beijing
The flight to Beijing was abruptly canceled when about 40 liters of fuel flowed out
of one wing just before Their Majesties were due to depart. The King and Queen are
still in Phnom Penh, waiting for the flight to be rescheduled probably next week.
The King was traveling to Beijing for his regular medical checkup and treatment.
The 77-year-old King last visited China in February for a routine medical examination,
which his Chinese doctors advise him to have every three months. He returned to Cambodia
on March 30. The King has suffered a variety of ailments, including bowel cancer,
diabetes, cataracts and hypertension.
Prime Minister Hun Sen, the Chairman of the Senate, Chea Sim, the National Assembly
President, Prince Norodom Ranariddh, and a hundred government officials were at the
airport to bid farewell to the King and Queen when the leak was noticed.
Hun Sen reacted angrily to the incident, immediately telling Pan Chanta to resign
or be fired.
He also apologized to the King and asked him to remain in Phnom Penh.
"I'm sorry, Your Majesty the King, please don't leave and could Your Majesty
stay for several days more," he said in front of waiting journalists and officials.
Hun Sen then ordered the national police chief, Hok Lundy, to make a serious investigation
into the event.
"We will set up a committee which will be led by the national police chief to
conduct the investigation, because we suspect that it is not a normal thing that
could be claimed to be a technical problem, but it is another problem," said
He pointed out that the event had just happened after the media had been criticizing
the King, the Royal Family and the Government.
"I am afraid the matter is political terrorism against the King and the Cambodian
Government in order to destroy Cambodia," said Hun Sen.
The investigation committee consists of Hok Lundy, Mol Roeup, who is the RCAF Deputy
Joint Chief of Staff and a Hun Sen advisor, the Chief of Military Police, Sao Sokha,
and the Chief of Judicial Police, Neat Savoeun.
Prince Ranariddh also blamed RAC for the incident and said there had been serious
danger to everyone at the airport, but particularly the King and Queen.
"The event this morning was dangerous: if the fuel had come in contact with
fire the plane would have exploded like a missile and all Cambodia's top leaders
would have lost their lives; then there would have been chaos in Cambodia,"
The prince said Cambodia needed the King as the head of national reconciliation and
to maintain political stability.
However, airline sources played down the seriousness of the incident, saying that
venting fuel was common and normal on airliners, often caused by fuel expanding in
A Malaysian engineer from RAC said it was caused by the fuel tanks being filled to
the maximum for the long flight.
"All aircraft must fuel before a long flight; it is a normal thing like filling
a car or motorbike," said the engineer. "It is a normal thing which happens
in every airport, even in Malaysia."
Airline sources also said jet fuel had a high flash point and would not have been
ignited by a stray cigarette or such.
At least one Malaysian engineer and several Cambodian engineers are under investigation
by the police committee because of the incident.
Sok An, Minister at the Council of Ministers, has been appointed to take charge of
RAC in the interim.