Speaking in Phnom Penh Friday on the 10th anniversary of the factional fighting, Brad Adams, executive director of the Asia Division of Human Rights Watch, said that the events of July 5 and 6, 1997, “ended any pretense” that Cambodia was on course to become a democracy soon.
Adams, who was with the UN human rights office in Phnom Penh at the time, delivered an hour-long presentation on the fighting at the Himawari Hotel, and said the information he was presenting had been garnered from over 200 interviews with CPP, Funcinpec and diplomatic officials.
According to Adams, there were more than 200 extrajudicial killings in the weeks following the fighting. He also claimed that senior CPP military commanders had told him they had been ordered to round up and execute Funcinpec military commanders in the aftermath of the fighting.
During two days of street battles in Phnom Penh in 1997, forces loyal to then-second Prime Minister Hun Sen routed troops loyal to then-first Prime Minister and Funcinpec President Prince Norodom Ranariddh.
Adams also took issue with The Cambodia Daily’s use of the term “factional fighting” to describe the violence, saying that it was decidedly a coup, just not a coup by the CPP as a whole.
Many senior CPP officials including party President Chea Sim, Interior Minister Sar Kheng, Defense Minister Tea Banh and RCAF Commander-in-Chief Ke Kim Yan all opposed the fighting and did not take part, Adams said.
“I think it is fair to say that this is a Hun Sen coup and not a CPP coup,” he said.
Adams also chastised the diplomatic community for turning a blind eye to the events of July 1997, especially the extrajudicial killings, saying that there has been a “conscious unwillingness to face the facts on this.”
“When people are taken out, blindfolded, stripped and shot in the head you should be held accountable,” he said.
CPP lawmaker Cheam Yeap on Friday denied Adams’ claims, stating that there was no planned coup by Hun Sen or the CPP in July of 1997.
“There was no such plan for a coup,” Cheam Yeap said.
“I am a member of the central committee of the CPP and a member of the permanent central committee of the CPP, and I have never heard that Samdech Hun Sen planned that,” he said.
Information Minister Khieu Kanharith said he was too busy to speak with a reporter.