Jabbing a defiant finger in the air, the man who has seized power in Cambodia insisted Thursday that his takeover was not a coup d’etat.
“I don’t think this is a coup when the constitution remains unchanged, when the National Assembly still works and when the royal government continues to work,” Second Prime Minister Hun Sen said in his first news conference since the fighting began Saturday. “No politicians have been arrested; all political parties remain intact.”
However, a senior United Nations human rights official confirmed Thursday that a second opposition figure was executed while in the custody of Hun Sen’s troops, and that about 65 provincial officials from ousted First Prime Minister Norodom Ranariddh’s FUNCINPEC party had been arrested. Scores of others have fled the country or are in hiding.
Alarmed by the violence, the foreign ministers of the Assn. of Southeast Asian Nations, or ASEAN, meeting in Malaysia, decided to postpone Cambodia’s scheduled admission into the regional body. Hun Sen, in turn, warned ASEAN not to meddle in Cambodian politics.
“The ASEAN principle is noninterference in the internal affairs of members, and what happened in Cambodia is purely the internal affair of Cambodia,” Hun Sen said.
To buttress his position, the Foreign Ministry released a 17-page white paper accusing Ranariddh of provoking the crisis by building up his armed forces, adding Khmer Rouge defectors to his faction, illegally importing arms and conducting a “campaign of violence and intimidation.”
Hun Sen, whose troops overwhelmed Prince Ranariddh’s forces a day after Ranariddh departed for France, likened him to a “soldier who has deserted because of the crimes he committed.”
“Ranariddh left without anyone expelling him,” Hun Sen said. “I will not invite him to return, but I will also not ban him from returning.”
However, Hun Sen has said that Ranariddh will face prosecution if he returns to Cambodia. The prince was in New York on Thursday, trying to rally support from the United Nations.
Hun Sen’s remarks came a day after the U.N. secretary-general’s special representative in Cambodia issued a scathing statement labeling the weekend’s events a “coup"--a term the Clinton administration has scrupulously avoided using.
“I strongly condemn the violent coup d’etat on 5-6 July which has displaced the lawfully elected government of Cambodia,” Ambassador Thomas Hammarberg’s statement said.
If the current National Assembly is destroyed, “it will be difficult and perhaps impossible for the next national elections scheduled for May 1998 to have any meaning or legitimacy,” the statement added.
If the U.N. were to curtail its aid to Cambodia, that would be a crippling blow to this war-ravaged country, which relies on international donations to subsidize more than half of its national budget.
There were unconfirmed reports Thursday evening of heavy shelling in Siem Reap, a northwest province, but the streets of Phnom Penh were peaceful, if gloomy.
Passengers arriving on commercial flights into the capital’s international airport tromped through shards of the airport’s roof and the shattered remnants of expensive liquor bottles from its duty-free shops. Customs officials stamped passports on a concrete bench.
A hole 4 feet in diameter had been blasted through the departure lounge, apparently by a mortar. Everything conceivable had been looted: the air conditioners, the televisions in the waiting lounge, the duty-free goods as well as the shelves and counters they had been displayed on, X-ray machines, doors and door frames, windows and all the seats.
The U.S. Embassy was evacuating dependents and all but about 20 essential staff members. Japanese Prime Minister Ryutaro Hashimoto today ordered three transport planes to fly to Thailand in preparation for evacuating Japanese in Cambodia. The British and French embassies have no plans to evacuate.
Five prominent opposition members of the National Assembly joined the exodus on Thursday, spurred by the news that Chau Sambath had become the second official from FUNCINPEC--the United National Front for an Independent, Neutral, Peaceful and Cooperative Cambodia--to be killed while in custody.
“He was shot in the Ministry of Interior, which is where he worked,” said David Hawk, officer-in-charge of the U.N. Center for Human Rights in Cambodia. Hawk said the center is concerned about the conditions of detention of about 65 arrested provincial officials, as well as at least 100 to 150 FUNCINPEC military personnel who were captured or surrendered over the weekend.
International observers have not yet been allowed access to the detainees, Hawk said. On Thursday evening, the U.N. rights center filed a formal request to visit them.
Geraldine Cox, an Australian consultant with Ranariddh’s Cabinet office, said all of her colleagues have fled the country, are missing or are in hiding. “I’ve heard a couple of Cabinet staff have been tracked down and murdered,” she said, though she could not confirm the reports.
Cox said she is staying to look after 40 terrified children in an orphanage she runs.
The uncontrolled looting by Hun Sen’s soldiers appears to have done more to undermine confidence in the new regime than the political strong-arm tactics.
“Hun Sen was popular before. He is very unpopular now,” said Arnaud Darc, who runs import-export and restaurant businesses in the capital. “Why? They see all the foreigners leaving. There will be no more money. No customers, no tourists. . . . It’s a big step backward.”