Prince’s Bodyguard Recalls Terrifying Hours
Thong Serey Both was eating noodles at about 8 am at a streetside stall when he first saw the tanks rolling up Street 228.
He knew their target: The home of then First Prime Minister Prince Norodom Ranariddh, where he served as a bodyguard.
Leaving his noodles, he sprinted back to the house just as the bullets and rockets started raining down on the compound. As he took cover inside the house, he thought that day—July 5—would be his last.
“I didn’t think there was any hope that I could survive,” the 28-year-old said nearly one year to the day after troops loyal to Second Prime Minister Hun Sen launched an attack on the prince’s house.
Before that morning, Thong Serey Both said, he knew little about the events leading up to the fighting. But he had heard rumors, of course. “I heard something would happen in Phnom Penh because the people seemed to be in turmoil,” he said, but why or when the fighting had begun was a mystery to him.
He remained in the room with about 20 others, among them Interior Secretary of State Ho Sok, the prince’s Chief of Cabinet Ly Touch, and the bodyguard chief Thach Suong. Periodically throughout the day, bullets and rockets struck the house.
During a lull in the fighting, Thong Serey Both said, Ho Sok sent a bodyguard out with $5,000 in cash to bribe their way out of the compound. He doesn’t know whether the cash was dispersed, but shortly afterward, he and five others, including Ho Sok, hopped over a fence, crossed a street and took refuge at the residence of the Singaporean Ambassador.
They left a bodyguard in the compound whose leg was oozing blood and couldn’t be moved. Thong Serey Both doesn’t know what happened to him.
He stayed in the residence a little over an hour until he decided to make a break for it on his own.
While in hiding over the next days, his picture was flashed on TV screens and the announcer called him “an extremist,” he said. He recognized the clandestine photo as being taken months beforehand when he had escorted a Funcinpec official to the bank. “I don’t know where or how they got the picture of me, maybe from a spy satellite or something,” he said.
Thong Serey Both now works as a security guard and said he’s through working for politicians. But he still lives in fear. The CPP has investigated him, he said, and at least twice since the fighting he believes someone has tried to kill him, the most recent attempt coming in May: “I don’t know why they want to end my life.”