Prime Minister Hun Sen on Tuesday reaffirmed his loyalty to retired King Norodom Sihanouk in the face of fresh calls to remove the retired King’s immunity and bring him before the Extraordinary Chambers in the Courts of Cambodia.
Speaking at the inauguration of a Kandal province pagoda, Hun Sen offered evidence of Norodom Sihanouk’s suffering under the Khmer Rouge. He said he had given King Norodom Sihamoni a copy of the minutes of a March 11, 1976 meeting of the Khmer Rouge leadership, which he asserted called for the execution of the retired King’s children and potentially of the retired King himself.
“Angkar said it would send a telegram to invite his children to come to the country in order to participate in the New Year and national holiday April 17th,” Hun Sen said. “They used the words ‘solve it for good.’ The words ‘solve it for good’ for Pol Pot meant killing.”
Hun Sen added that calls to open Norodom Sihanouk to prosecution at the ECCC, which has been set up to try those most responsible for certain crimes committed under the Khmer Rouge, would “make the victims out to be the criminals.”
“This was a brutal demand,” Hun Sen said, adding: “The government, the Senate, the National Assembly and other political parties cannot ignore this abuse: This is an attempt to set fire.”
A little-known US NGO called the Cambodian Action Committee for Justice and Equity is campaigning to overturn the retired King’s immunity.
In an Aug 20 statement, the NGO urged the National Assembly to strip Norodom Sihanouk of his immunity, which is enshrined in both the constitution and a 2004 law.
The NGO issued another statement to that effect Monday, alleging that its opponents “don’t want justice for the victims…and especially they want to make the tribunal a show trial.”
CPP and Funcinpec leaders have been swift to denounce CACJE, and on Monday retired King Sihanouk posted a message on his Web site thanking CPP and Senate President Chea Sim for his support.
The 1976 meeting minutes said that if Norodom Sihanouk revolted he would be “finished,” Hun Sen said. “[W]ithout the January 7, 1979 liberation, the retired King would not have survived.”
Hun Sen said he had been given the document a few months ago by Chea Chanto, the governor of the National Bank of Cambodia. “I didn’t have the minutes before,” he said, adding, “I would have given it to the King [Norodom Sihamoni] long ago.”
The minutes of the March 11, 1976 meeting of the Standing Committee of the National United Front of Kampuchea can be seen on the Web site of the Documentation Center of Cambodia, where they are catalogued as D7562 in the site’s Khmer Rouge history database.
According to an unofficial English translation by Bunsou Sour, edited by historian David Chandler, the committee convened in order to consider Norodom Sihanouk’s resignation from his symbolic post as head of state.
The Khmer Rouge leaders in attendance on March 11, 1976 included Pol Pot, Nuon Chea and Khieu Samphan. In the minutes, the committee wrote that it considered the retired King a “senior personality” and stated, “We shall not kill him. But vis-a-vis the people and the Nation, [Norodom] Sihanouk must also be punished…[I]f he continues to resist us, we shall take measures to liquidate him.”
The Committee added that Norodom Sihanouk felt “completely lost, without any future [in Cambodia]. He is very frustrated. He lacks work, he is bored and the environment that surrounds him, in particular his wife who cries constantly, pushes him to the point that he cannot endure any longer.”
Then-Prince Sihanouk had led a movement—including rebels that would later become the Khmer Rouge—against the Lon Nol government following the 1970 coup. He resigned as head of state on April 2, 1976, and was confined to house arrest in the royal palace.
During the meeting the committee had also decided to “dispatch telegrams to the sons of [Norodom] Sihanouk asking them to return as soon as possible, pointing out that they must come for the New Year and the National Day celebration. We must solve this problem once and for all. We must also solve it for the interests of our revolution.”
The minutes stop short of making an explicit call for their execution.
Prince Sisowath Thomico said Tuesday that then-Prince Norodom Sihamoni and his brother, Prince Norodom Narindrapong, were indeed summoned to Phnom Penh by telegram in 1976, but that neither was killed.
“Both of them survived because the Chinese leader [Prime Minister] Zhou Enlai left a message to the Khmer Rouge: Do not kill the King,” he said.
The retired King was a victim, just like so many other Cambodians, Prince Thomico said, adding that he believed CACJE to be operating for its own political gain.
The origins and politics of CACJE remain shrouded in mystery. Calls to a local number were not recognized by phone networks Sunday or Tuesday, and few people in Cambodia seem familiar with the group, which is based in Revere, a town near Boston in the US state of Massachusetts.
DC-Cam director Youk Chhang said he knew of other groups in France that also agitate against the retired King and include Cambodians once affiliated with Lon Nol’s regime.
Opposition lawmaker Son Chhay on Tuesday questioned the authenticity of CACJE, and said the group’s demands may simply be a ploy to obstruct the work of the ECCC.
“The CPP is weird to respond to a small NGO because the CPP rarely makes a response,” he said. “I am suspicious that the committee’s demand is just to provoke a problem to delay the ECCC.”
Norodom Ranariddh Party spokesman Muth Channtha said Tuesday that he was also suspicious of the obscure group, and urged the government to investigate its origins. “I have worked with NGOs for 20 years and I never heard the name,” he said.
Royal Cabinet member Oum Daravuth could not be reached for comment Tuesday.
Peter Foster, the ECCC’s UN spokesman, said it was up to tribunal judges and prosecutors to decide whom to call as a witness and whom to indict. The retired King, he said, could be called as a witness, “but whether he’s bound to show up is another question entirely.”