Charuwan Duangchan, the former wife of Prince Norodom Chakrapong, has alleged that she was detained at her home in Phnom Penh for more than a decade until she fled to Thailand earlier this month.
On Dec 3 and Dec 4, Thai newspapers The Bangkok Post and The Nation reported that a woman claiming to be married to the prince sought refuge in Thailand on Dec 2.
The Nation stated that Charuwan Duangchan, 50, a Thai national, was accompanied into Thailand by her daughter-in-law Res Suphorn, and that Cambodian immigration officers were attempting to take the two women back to Cambodia from a market near the border when Thai police came to investigate a disturbance and intervened.
Speaking by telephone from Thailand on Thursday, Charuwan Duangchan alleged that she had been kept in her home since 1993, and that she was only able to flee when Prince Chakrapong left Cambodia to attend the Southeast Asian Games in the Philippines, which began on Nov 27.
“I had been imprisoned in my home since 1993 until the day I ran away. I could walk around my home but I could not get out alone. If I wanted to go anywhere, there must be other family members to accompany me,” she said.
Contacted Sunday, Prince Chakrapong declined comment, saying he feared his words would be distorted, adding that he had responded to all allegations in a Radio Free Asia interview.
In the RFA interview broadcast on Sunday night, Prince Chakrapong denied his ex-wife’s accusations, saying they were intended to defame him, and that it is normal for former partners to speak ill of one another following a divorce.
“When there is a break in the family, no one says bad of themselves, and they point at the other one [saying they are] bad,” he said.
Prince Norodom Charuchak, son of Prince Chakrapong and Charuwan Duangchan, also denied his mother’s claims on Sunday. He added that while in Phnom Penh, she left the house daily to go to the market, accompanied by maids and bodyguards.
“She is allowed to go anywhere she pleases,” he said.
Pich Saran, Poipet International Checkpoint immigration police chief, said shortly after the Thai newspaper reports that he had no knowledge of Charuwan Duangchan crossing the border, and that immigration police did not try to arrest her.
Charuwan Duangchan said that her confinement, though never made public, was an open secret within the royal family.
“Other royal family [members] know that I had been imprisoned in my house,” she said, adding that she had previously sought help from NGOs, including the Cambodian Women’s Crisis Center.
In June 1999, her complaints reached the UN Center for Human Rights, according to documents obtained last week.
In a letter dated June 2, 1999, and addressed to an unnamed rights organization, she reported that she had been confined in one room for two months, and guarded by military police.
After being contacted about the case by the UN Center for Human Rights, then-King Norodom Sihanouk wrote to his son, Prince Chakrapong, about the case in a letter dated June 14, 1999.
“To safeguard the honor of the Cambodian Royal Family and that of Cambodia, Papa entreats you to render, without condition or delay, all the liberties of your spouse,” Norodom Sihanouk wrote, according to a copy of the letter.
He further reminded his son that Cambodia was a signatory to UN human rights conventions.
Prince Chakrapong responded in a subsequent letter that he and his wife were seeking a divorce through the Cambodian legal system.
Charuwan Duangchan said she divorced her husband in 1993, and that court officials came to her home to officiate, though she was not certain which court they represented.
She left the country shortly after the divorce, and was detained when she came back to pay a visit later in 1993, she alleged.
“The Prince did not want to divorce,” she said. “A few months after I conducted the divorce, I came to Cambodia with my older sister for business. I then met [Prince Chakrapong] again, and he invited me to meet my son. I, later on, was prohibited to leave home.”
She said she knew UN officials had tried to help her, though they were unable to enter her house.
CWCC Executive Director Oung Chanthol said the case was confidential and she could not provide details, while current UN Center for Human Rights officials could not provide information on the case.
Despite her claims of confinement, Charuwan Duangchan said repeatedly that her husband had supported her financially and treated her well, and that she did not wish to sully his reputation or to speak out against him.
She added that she plans to stay in Thailand, though she hopes to come back to Cambodia to visit her family.
“I do not want to speak out much, because we both did divorce already,” she said. “Especially, I do not want to speak out about something that affects his reputation.”
(Additional reporting by Pol Meanith)
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