Retired King Norodom Sihanouk was ready to discuss his experiences under the Khmer Rouge with UN staffers from the Extraordinary Chambers in the Courts of Cambodia on Saturday, but no one showed up, Royal Palace representatives said Sunday.
“His Majesty the King Father has opened these golden gates with sincerity and honorability for the ECCC UN to show up, but they have chosen to close the door,” Royal Cabinet member Oum Daravuth said.
On Saturday and again on Sunday, state-run TVK broadcast shots of a large table spread with a green cloth and surrounded by empty golden chairs, the site the retired King had readied to receive his ECCC guests, Pheng Pearun, an aide to Royal Palace Minister Kong Sam Ol, told TVK viewers.
The short broadcast included close-up shots of the fresh pastries, coffee, and orange juice the Palace had prepared for its ECCC guests. In the video footage, Pheng Pearun paced around the table, checking his watch, in seeming frustration, though the retired King himself was nowhere to be seen.
“This is a meeting hall inside the Royal Palace that the retired King prepared to meet Peter Foster, but it is sad that Peter Foster failed to meet as scheduled,” Pheng Pearun said in the broadcast. “We waited until 12 o’clock,” he added.
In fact, the UN last week informed the palace that Foster, the tribunal’s UN public affairs officer, would not attend the event.
“The UN responded to the [retired] King. The [retired] King received the response. Everyone was aware no one was coming,” Foster said Sunday. “This is not a personal issue between me and the retired King. It’s a judicial matter,” he said.
In a private letter dated Sept 6, Michelle Lee, the international deputy director of the tribunal’s Office of Administration, told Royal Palace Minister Kong Sam Ol that Foster, as a spokesman, cannot perform “court functions” and thus was not authorized to attend Saturday’s meeting.
“Indeed, only the judges of the Extraordinary Chambers in the Courts of Cambodia (ECCC) have the competency to determine who must be heard as a witness and, in so doing, they are obligated to respect the applicable procedural rules,” Lee wrote.
The retired King responded frostily in handwritten comments on Lee’s letter, a copy of which was e-mailed to the media Friday.
“I have already said everything as a ‘witness.’ I have nothing to add. Consequently I shall have nothing more to say to these Judges,” he wrote.
The retired King has maintained that Saturday’s discussion would have obviated any need for him to testify at the ECCC, and said that if UN staffers did not show up Saturday, he would no longer engage with them.
Oum Daravuth declined to comment directly on why the Palace had prepared for a meeting on Saturday when Lee made clear that Foster would not attend, referring that question to Kong Sam Ol, who could not be reached for comment.
Oum Daravuth added that across the nation, Cambodians had been eagerly awaiting the retired King’s testimony.
“They had a very good opportunity, not only for the ECCC, but the entire Cambodian people, to listen to our Hero, the Father of National Independence,” he said. “They set up to watch TV in every town; I heard from Siem Reap and Battambang [provinces]. The Royal Palace must show them that the King Father was waiting, and they did not come,” he added.
The retired King invited Foster and other UN staffers to the Palace in a message posted to his Web site Aug 30, not long after a little-known US group called the Cambodian Action Committee for Justice and Equity launched a still-simmering campaign to revoke the retired King’s immunity and compel him to testify at the tribunal.
Leading Funcinpec and CPP figures, including Prime Minister Hun Sen himself, have greeted those calls with strong condemnation.
The ECCC has made no public move to call Norodom Sihanouk as a witness.
ECCC Public Affairs Chief Helen Jarvis declined to comment Sunday.
(Additional reporting by Douglas Gillison)