Prime Minister Hun Sen announced in a fiery speech in Kompong Cham province Monday that he has filed a lawsuit related to the border issue against Prince Sisowath Thomico, retired King Norodom Sihanouk’s personal secretary, adding that the prince would face the possibility of imprisonment.
Hun Sen suggested that he had filed the lawsuit in response to a letter written by Prince Thomico and posted on Norodom Sihanouk’s Web site about Koh Tral island, which has been at the center of the border debate.
“He said I signed off on the loss of the island,” Hun Sen said in the speech broadcast on state-controlled TV and radio.
“There is no leader in the world who is so bad—even if he is as bad as Pol Pot—that would rush to give away land to other countries,” he said.
“If you cannot defend yourself, you, prince, must go to Prey Sar [prison],” the premier warned.
“I sue them all,” Hun Sen added. “Now Thomico is included…. Princes, princesses, workers, farmers, all were born naked.”
Prince Thomico, in an interview Monday afternoon, said he did not fear the threat of arrest and would not flee the country, but would begin a hunger strike if he were detained by authorities.
“If I am arrested, I will accept. I won’t try to do anything against them,” he said, explaining that his “masters” were Norodom Sihanouk and India’s Mahatma Gandhi. “But as soon as I am in jail, I will start a hunger strike.”
The prince, a French citizen, said he could seek protection from the French Embassy but insisted that he would refrain from doing so. He said he would tell his family in France of his decision to remain in Cambodia by e-mail Monday evening.
“Mam Sonando has been arrested, Rong Chhun has been arrested, several others have been arrested,” he said. “If my people have to bear this fate, I will bear the same fate.”
Hun Sen warned in a speech Friday that anyone who accused him of ceding Cambodian land would face lawsuits. Arrest warrants have since been issued for several people accused of defaming him over the border issue.
Mam Sonando, head of independent Beehive Radio, was arrested last week, and Rong Chhun, head of the Cambodian Independent Teachers’ Association, was detained Saturday.
“Whatever I would say from abroad wouldn’t have the same weight,” Prince Thomico said when asked what he would gain by allowing himself to be imprisoned. “As long as you are not in the country, it is meaningless. But when you are in the country and you speak, it has a meaning.”
“I can still enjoy one or two days of freedom,” he added, laughing and speculating that he would be detained today at the soonest and Wednesday at the latest if an arrest warrant were issued.
He also said that he was not afraid of his fate because he had already outlived his parents, who he said were recalled to Cambodia from his father’s diplomatic posting in East Germany and killed by the Khmer Rouge.
“We are civil servants,” he mused. “And it’s OK if in doing our duty we meet with some bad luck, it’s OK.”
Government spokesman and Ministry of Information Khieu Kanharith said: “The government is now preparing the legal papers to sue him.”
Once the papers were filed against Prince Thomico, the court would move quickly to act on them, Khieu Kanharith added.
Asked whether a warrant had been issued, Interior Ministry spokesman Khieu Sopheak referred the question to the court. A municipal court clerk declined comment, as did government lawyer Suong Chanthan.
Prince Thomico also issued a statement to the French Embassy thanking France for its support of Cambodia, but also claiming that the French government had played a large role in creating the border tensions when the Brevie line was demarcated in 1939. He pushed for the country to help resolve the issue.
“This question profoundly divides Cambodian society,” he wrote in a statement addressed to French Ambassador Yvon Roe D’Albert. “As long as it is not definitively and peacefully resolved, it will be like a volcano that menaces not only peace in Cambodia but also relations with its Vietnamese neighbor.”
The French Embassy did not respond to a request for comment Monday evening.
Several Sisowath royalists distanced themselves from the prince’s comments Monday.
“It’s up to the prime minister,” Funcinpec Senator Prince Sisowath Sirirath said when asked about his cousin’s situation, saying he didn’t want to comment further because of the sensitivity of the issue.
“Thomico is not talking on behalf of any other person but himself, I might or might not agree with him,” said Prince Sisowath Chivanmonirak, first vice chairman of the Senate.
Chivanmonirak said only King Norodom Sihamoni could speak on behalf of the royal family, adding repeatedly that he would sue a reporter if he were misquoted.
(Reporting by Michael Cowden, Phann Ana and Pin Sisovann)