Realities and visions in a year of contrasts
T HE year begins with yet another reminder of the painful dichotomy that continues
to frustrate the Kingdom’s tentative, hoped-for emergence from its tragic past: on
the one hand a glimpse into the as-yet-unrealized potential of a Cambodia at peace
as a constructive member within the regional community of nations; on the other,
the sharp reality of a fractious government coalition, continuously at odds and enmeshed
in a tangled web of mistrust and bitter squabbles among leaders with no immediate
resolution in sight.
Siem Reap offers the year’s first glimpse of peace and prosperity when the Kingdom’s
first International Cultural Festival in twenty-five years brings dance troupes from
India, Indonesia, Laos, Malaysia, Singapore Thailand and Cambodia who converged to
display the varied forms of the Ramayana. Thousands come to witness the New Year
spectacle in the shadows of Angkor Wat, providing another fine example of Cambodia’s
immense tourism potential.
But back in Phnom Penh, the government coalition factions begin the year the same
way as they would end it – divided. January 7 – the anniversary of the fall of the
Pol Pot regime under the Vietnamese invasion – is reinstated as a national holiday
at Second Prime Minister Hun Sen’s instigation. Twelve members of Funcinpec’s steering
committee write to King Sihanouk opposing the move, but in the end “Victory
Day” is added to the list of official holidays.
At a Jan 7 ceremonial speech, Hun Sen lashes out at Finance Minister Keat Chhon for
delays in clearing goods from the Phnom Penh and Sihanoukville ports. The Premier
gives Chhon three weeks to sort out the “mess” or else he would scrap the
SGS contract, signed by the government in October 1995.
On Jan 16, the National Assembly passes a tough law banning brothels and cross-border
trade in women and children, but the industry continues to grow.
Khmer Nation Party leader Sam Rainsy returns to Phnom Penh on Jan 15 from a 6-week
trip abroad. The next day Rainsy is embroiled in a party leadership feud. Steering
committee member Phan Sina resigns, saying he would stay on only if five others –
including Secretary-General Khieu Rada – were sacked. Within three days, three other
steering committee members also quit. Two of them cite frustration with KNP, while
Rainsy mutters about government spies within the party.
On Jan 17 First Prime Minister Norodom Ranariddh accuses Vietnam of an “invasion”
of Cambodian territory, heralding the start of an anti-Vietnam line that the First
Prime Minister was to continue throughout the year. Ranariddh alleges Vietnamese
farmers, backed by soldiers, had advanced several hundred meters into Cambodia in
Svay Rieng and Prey Veng provinces. Vietnam responds by saying that it always respected
Cambodia’s territorial integrity and that any disputes should be settled by negotiations.
The Royal Cambodian Armed Forces (RCAF) initiates dry season assaults against Khmer
Rouge positions to the west of Battambang and in areas south of Poipet. Little immediate
progress is made; soldiers from RCAF’s elite 911 Regiment take heavy casualties during
a firefight at Chromoh Chrook on Jan 18.
Exiled Prince Norodom Sirivudh tells the Post from Paris that he is only “temporarily”
abroad and determined to return.
Minister of Justice Chem Snguon complains to the two Prime Ministers that armed government
forces are intimidating Cambodian court workers from judges down to keep them from
doing their work effectively. Snguon causes a stir by naming a few names, including
that of National Military Police chief Kieng Savuth.
KNP headquarters is surrounded on Jan 29 by heavily-armed police in a macabre standoff
involving traffic policeman Khuon Sophy who initially says he entered the party offices
on his own accord and then, after an hour, claims he had been kidnapped. Police leave
after three hours, no charges are made, and a year of trouble for KNP has begun.
The Ministry of Health announc-es plans for its upcoming National Immunization
Days program to combat polio, undertaken with the support of the World Health Organization.
The Ministry aims to vaccinate 1.84 million children to deal a “death blow”
to polio in Cambodia.
The govern-ment’s dry season push against the KR stronghold of Pailin progresses
slowly, with RCAF officials intent on going step-by-step and avoiding the same mistakes
that had been made in 1994. Analysts estimate that as many as 14,000 RCAF troops
are involved in the effort.
Supreme Patriarch, The Venerable Maha Ghosananda is nominated – for the third year
in a row – for The Nobel Peace prize, this time by the American Friends Service Committee.
Funcinpec’s star radio disc jockey Ek Mongkul is shot four times by gunmen as he
drives behind the Royal Palace on Feb. 8. Mongkul survives; no arrests are made.
On Feb 14 KNP leader Sam Rainsy sacks his deputy Ngoun Soeur and blames the government
for “organizing” the split within his party. Rainsy and Soeur trade insults,
calling each other “tricky” and “egocentric”.
Tried in absentia on Feb 22, Sirivudh is convicted of conspiracy and possession of
illegal weapons, and sentanced to ten years in jail. Human rights and legal observers
call the result “farcical and purely political.” Sirivudh’s lawyer, Say
Bory, receives a death threat on the night before the trial.
The US General Accounting Office issues a report on Cambodia’s progress toward human
and political rights and mineclearing, calling progress on all three fronts “limited.”
The report predicts there would not be free and fair elections, human rights abuses
would continue and political intolerance would worsen.
President Bill Clinton Feb 23 adds Cambodia to a US government list of “major
illicit drug producing and transit countries”. Refraining from calling for an
imposition of aid sanctions against the Kingdom, Clinton “certifies” Cambodia
as a country making efforts to stop the flow of drugs. Clinton specifically refers
to corruption in Cambodian government, business and military circles as contributing
to the drug trafficking; Cambodian officials react angrily, urging the US to put
up some evidence or shut up.
The government succeeds in convincing KR General Heng Pong and 357 of his soldiers
to come over to the government side. Pong, based in Phnom Oral, Kompong Speu, is
the highest ranking KR commander to defect since the 1993 elections.
Haing Ngor, the Oscar-winning actor, author and tireless campaigner against the Khmer
Rouge, is found dead outside his house in the Chinatown district of Los Angeles Feb
25. Hun Sen labels the killing a “political act”.
Debate picks up over the future of Cambodia’s water resources and the possibility
of constructing a dam across the Mekong in preparation for the Donors Consultative
Meeting to be held in Tokyo. Attention is focused on the town of Sambor in Kratie
province as the most likely site for any major dam construction.
Ly Chandara, editor of an anti-communist, Vietnamese-language publication called
Tudo, is arrested at dawn Mar 9 by police. He is driven to the Vietnamese border
and handed over to Vietnamese authorities.
Six days later, 13 Vietnamese run into the US Embassy in an attempt to seek political
assylum. The Vietnamese, part of the anti-communist “Free Vietnam” group,
say they were told to go to the embassy by a US-based group called the International
Missing Persons Foundation. The US Embassy refuses asylum to the group after getting
assurances from co-Interior Minister Sar Kheng that the Vietnamese would not be deported.
Nguon Soeur holds a party congress for his breakaway “KNP II” party. Many
attendees say they only showed up because they were paid to do so.
Ranariddh and Vietnamese President Do Muoi hold talks in Laos, both agreeing that
border problems should be solved through negotiations.
Mu Sochua, nominee for the newly created post of Minister for Women’s Affairs, is
the target of a smear campaign, with the sending of letters opposing her nomination
which include vitriolic language and bogus signatures.
The Preah Sihanouk Raj Academy, Cambodia’s first independent “think tank”,
collapses after a bout of internal squabbling. Founder Thach Bunroeun leaves the
country amid allegations that he profited from the sale of institute property which
had been purchased from NGO donations.
Funcinpec opens its party Congress Mar 21. In a watershed in deteriorating relations
between the coalition partners, party leader Ranariddh hits out at Funcinpec’s lack
of equal power with the CPP. The demands are not well-received by the CPP and Hun
Yoshimi Tanaka, former Military Commisar of the Japanese Red Army terrorist group,
along with several officials from the North Korean embassy, are detained at the Cambodian-Vietnamese
border. After a bizarre two-day stand-off, they are forced to return to Phnom Penh.
Tanaka is turned over to Cambodian police and Interpol agents before being deported
to Thailand where he is wanted in connection with counterfeiting charges.
British deminer Chris Howes and his Khmer intepretor Houn Hourth are taken hostage
Mar 26 in a village north of Siem Reap. They are believed to have been kidnapped
by Khmer Rouge defectors who had served briefly with the RCAF before going AWOL,
apparently heading back to KR territory north of Siem Reap province.
Sin Sen, sentenced to 18 years in prison for his role in the failed 1994 coup attempt,
is released from prison for “health reasons” through the intervention of
King Sihanouk issues a strongly worded statement on Mar 31 decrying the continued
degradation of the Kingdom’s environment, primarily through deforestation.
British environmental group Global Witness reveals that the two Prime Ministers
have signed over one million cubic meters of timber to 17 Thai companies in three
separate deals. The agreements in principle were struck in January after meetings
between Agricultural Minister Tao Seng Hour and Thai Deputy Prime Minister Chavalit
Agriculture Minister Tao Seng Hour later disputes the Post’s reporting on the deal
and says that the timber trade will be “strictly controlled”.
A joint World Bank/UNDP/FAO report criticizing the government’s logging policies
becomes public. The report says “current policies risk deepening and accelerating”
Hun Sen, in a radio broadcast on Apr 8, says he has information about an assassination
plot against him and vows to “step on the neck” of anyone who tries to
Vietnamese Prime Minister Vo Van Kiet meets with Ranariddh Apr 10. The two leaders
pledge to solve border disputes peacefully.
The Australian Embassy issues a warning to Australian residents in Cambodia Apr 12,
warning them about the rising incidence of robberies at night. More than 30 foreigners
have reported being robbed in the capital in the previous two months.
King Sihanouk, in a Khmer New Year statement Apr 15, urges the Cambodian people and
political leaders to make “maximum efforts” in working for peace and prosperity.
Rumors of coup attempts and unusual troop movements circulate through Phnom Penh
over the Khmer New Year. As political tensions simmer, both parties make contingency
plans for any military dispute between them.
The Ministry of Commerce holds its second annual Trade Fair at Takhmau stadium, drawing
an estimated one million people from around the country.
King Sihanouk undertakes an official visit to France,where he meets French President
Jacques Chirac Apr 22. Ranariddh, Rainsy and BLDP faction leader Son Sann are in
France at the same time; pro-CPP newspapers allege the group are conspiring. Hun
Sen warns Funcinpec not to withdraw from government or National Assembly. The King,
while in Paris, is moved to issue a formal declaration that the Royal Family would
not act against Hun Sen or the CPP.
At an anti-corruption seminar held in Phnom Penh Apr 25-26, Ranariddh promises to
get tough on graft and co-Interior Minister Sar Kheng calls corrruption a “social
disease”. Both pledge support for anti-corruption legislation which, by year’s
end, was not passed.
The dry season “offensive” grinds to a halt with the onset of the rainy
season. Officials say gains achieved in the push will be consolidated, unlike previous
years, and RCAF will be able to hold areas taken from the KR. But the costs of fighting
have been high, with estimated casualties topping 1,500 dead or wounded on the government
The US Senate Finance Committee May 8 unanimously adopts the bill granting Most Favored
Nation (MFN) status to Cambodia.
The Council of Ministers decides to establish formal relations between the Kingdom
and the Republic of Korea on May 9, at the instigation of Hun Sen. The King – a long-time
ally of North Korea – makes his displeasure known, saying that he will never personally
accept the credentials of any diplomat from South Korea.
Co-Ministers of Interior Sar Kheng and You Hokry send a letter to the UN May 9 requesting
“technical assistance” for the upcoming elections. One UN official expresses
concern at an apparent lack of political will to hold free and fair elections and
says the international body did not want to participate in a process that was “doomed
Seven Thai quarry workers are freed after being held hostage for 24 hours by the
KR in a mountain area in Komgpong Speu province.
The Royal Ploughing Ceremony is held and the Royal oxen eat all the rice and maize,
a tenth of the sesame, a good portion each of grass and water, and no alcohol. A
good omen, is the verdict.
The Venerable Maha Ghosa-nanda begins his fifth Peace Pilgrimage May 10.
The World Bank makes it clear at a May 10 meeting in Phnom Penh that the upcoming
Consultative Group session in Tokyo would deal with economics and not politics. It
is announced that Cambodia will seek support for some $1.6 billion of aid projects.
Thun Bun Ly, editor of Khmer
Ideal, is shot dead in Phnom Penh May 18. Bun Ly is the fourth journalist killed
since the elections. His funeral turns into a four-hour shoving match between Bun
Ly’s relatives, Sam Rainsy and other KNP members and a battalion of security police
who prevent the funeral cortege from passing by the National Assembly. The Ministry
of Interior issues a statement suggesting that personal, not political, motives lie
behind the murder – but fails to arrest anyone.
The International Monetary Fund freezes funding to Cambodia because money from the
sale of timber assets was not finding its way to the Ministry of Finance.
An international religious cult, led by Supreme Master Ching Hai, leases 31,600 hectares
of military-controlled land and sets up a base in Kompong Speu.
Licadho, the human rights organization, says that investigations of rights abuses
were the highest since it began operations in July 1992, and points to a rise in
Samdech Chakrey Nhiek Tiou-long, one of the King ‘s closest and most trusted advisors
for over 50 years, passes away Jun 9, aged 88.
Co-Minister of Interior Sar Kheng Jun 11 announces the arrest of members of three
gangs that had been responsible for a rash of crimes against foreigners in the capital.
Khmer Rouge massacre 14 innocent civilians in Kampot province three days after they
were taken hostage on Jun 15.
The Thai Prime Minister, Barnharn Silpa Archar visits Cambodia for bilateral talks
on Jun 20.
RCAF inaugurates a new counter insurgency school, built with funds donated by the
Australian government. Pol Pot is reported dead by AFP , sparking one of the biggest
unsolved mysteries of the year. The report about the KR’s infamous Brother No.1 is
denied by the KR, Hun Sen and other government officials.
Finance Minister Keat Chhon writes to the World Bank, UNDP and FAO on Jun 28 requesting
assistance in the form of technical experts to help enforce the government’s logging
Hun Sen delivers a blistering speech to party loyalists at the Ministry of Public
Works on Jun 29. He calls Ing Kieth the worst Minister of Public Works in the last
17 years, and has harsh words for Ranariddh and the Royal family.
A French woman reports that she was raped on her first full day in Phnom Penh by
a robber Jul 5. A Khmer man is later arrested, yet to face trial.
Afive-member national team is sent to participate in the1996 Summer Olympic Games
to be held in Atlanta, USA, ending Cambodia’s 24-year absence from the Olympics.
Team members don’t pick up any medals but, in true Olympic spirit, say that it is
participation that counts.
Chan Rattana, editor of Voice of Khmer Youth, is released after spending one week
in the T3 prison for defaming the Prime Ministers. His original sentence of one year
in jail is commuted by King Sihanouk.
The Tokyo Consultative Meeting is held on Jul 11-12 to determine aid pledges for
the Kingdom, and Cambodia gets $501 million in development aid for the next year.
Hun Sen visits Seoul to cement the Kingdom’s newfound ties with South Korea. The
Prime Minister then goes to China – a long-time supporter of King Sihanouk – with
a CPP-xclusive delegation. Speculation mounts over just what was discussed in China.
Widespread cheating is reported throughout the school system as students sit for
year-end exams. Friends and relatives of students throw answers wrapped around rocks
through windows, bribe teachers and pay off soldiers outside classrooms to look the
More than 300 Cambodian “boat people” return from camps in Indonesia and
Malaysia where they had languished for up to 10 years. UNHCR says that by the end
of the year 99.9 percent of all boat people at camps in the region will have been
repatriated to their home countries, ending the era of boat people in Southeast Asia.
Hundreds of Funcinpec officials meet in Phnom Penh Aug 2 to discuss strategy,
as signs of disunity surface with the reported defections of some Funcinpec-related
police officers to the CPP. Party leader Ranariddh urges solidarity.
In the biggest blow to the KR since the brutal Pol Pot regime was ousted from power
in 1979, news is released that Ieng Sary and KR troops under his control in the Phnom
Malai/Pailin area have split with KR “hardliners” under Pol Pot’s control.
Hun Sen says the “defectors” include KR commander Ee Chean, in charge of
Division 415 in Pailin, and Sok Pheap, commander of Division 450 based in Malai.
Unsubstantiated reports say 3,000 KR soldiers and up to 30,000 civilians are involved
in the split.
Ranariddh and Hun Sen lock horns over the Ieng Sary split. Friction arises over who
can take credit for the affair and whether Ieng Sary will be pardoned or treated
as a criminal. Ranariddh initially strongly opposes any amnesty for Sary. Hun Sen
Aug 17 extends the olive branch to Ranariddh, and they agree to work together to
deal with the Ieng Sary rebels.
On Aug 28 Ieng Sary gives his first interview with the outside world in many years.
Sary says that he has created a new movement called the Democratic National United
Movement (DNUM), that he made no mistakes so he doesn’t need to be amnestied, that
he was not Pol Pot’s right hand man, and that all he wants is peace for the nation.
He also says that his forces can not surrender as they would not accept this after
having fought for so many years.
The Ministry of Interior creates a special police unit, the “Flying Tigers”,
to tackle crime in the capital.
Work on refurbishing the capital’s antiquated water pipes, which have not been maintained
for more than 25 years, proceeds full speed ahead.
Journalist Hen Vipheak, former editor of New Liberty News, is released from jail
after spending a week in T3 prison. Vipheak, sentenced to one year in jail for disinformation,
has his sentenced overturned by Royal pardon.
Foreign advisors working for the Ministry of Interior recommend that the government
delay next year’s commune elections and suggest that the poll be held in conjunction
with national elections in 1998. The advisors say that the planning for both elections
is “way behind” schedule.
Hun Sen visits Sisophon Sep 2 to meet Ieng Vuth, Ieng Sary’s son. The premier
takes some heat from his own party on the pace of dealings with the Ieng Sary clique.
Some suspect the breakaway rebels are a KR “Trojan horse”.
Ranariddh tells diplomats at a Sept 2 reception in Phnom Penh that Ieng Sary will
receive an amnesty from the King upon the recommendation of the two Prime Ministers.
Most of the diplomats’ jaws drop to the floor.
More than 150 journalists converge on Phnom Malai on Sep 9 in an unparalleled media
circus-like visit to the “secret” Khmer Rouge base. Ieng Sary tells the
press he never killed anyone.
King Sihanouk grants an amnesty to Ieng Sary Sep 14 after Ranariddh and Hun Sen meet
with the King requesting him to do so. The pardon is carefully worded and leaves
the door open for prosecution. But the King is angered by what he says was an early
release of the amnesty announcement, and demands that two-thirds of the National
Assembly approve the pardon, which is duly done.
The Tamil Tigers are reported to have set up a front operation in Cambodia to buy
weapons for their war effort in Sri Lanka.
Ranariddh suggests the breakaway KR will support his line against Vietnamese encroachments
into Cambodian territory, and says that Hun Sen may have reason to be worried.
Co-Interior Minister You Hokry is convinced he will go to jail if his parliamentary
immunity is lifted by the National Assembly, after he was accused of having tampered
with confiscated heroin. He denies the charges; his immunity remains intact.
President Bill Clinton approves legislation Sep 25 granting Cambodia Most Favored
Minister of Commerce Cham Prasith signs the bilateral trade agreement with Acting
Trade Representative Charlene Barshefsky Oct 4 which officially grants MFN status.
Government officials and private investors say MFN will be a significant boost for
The Kingdom is hit by the worst floods since 1978. Several provincial capitals are
innundated, more than 500,000 people forced to flee their homes or have crops destroyed,
and at least 14 are reported killed.
Prince Ranariddh makes an unannounced visit to Pailin Oct 11, fueling speculation
that the CPP and Funcinpec are still angling to take advantage of the Ieng Sary split
for their own interests.
Hun Sen – in an historic meeting of old enemies – visits Pailin and shakes the hand
of Ieng Sary. He pledges the breakaway KR can keep their land and possessions. A
party, complete with scantily-clad singers from Battambang, is laid on for the former
KR. RCAF soldiers in Pailin take advantage of the opportunity to go on a gem-hunt.
Kantha Bopha II, a hospital built by funds raised by Swiss doctor Beat Richner, opens
Oct 12 on land donated by King Sihanouk next to the Royal Palace. Swiss President
Jean Pascal Delamuraz presides over the opening and signs an accord safeguarding
The Cambodian Genocide Project reports it has collected hundreds of thousands of
pages of documents from the KR regime, and will release much of information on the
Internet by early 1997.
Police fire shots near the US Embassy and arrest two demonstrators as opposition
leader Sam Rainsy leads a march through Phnom Penh to protest the visit of Burmese
leader General Than Shwe.
Thirteen Angkorian artifacts stolen from Cambodia in 1990 are returned from Thailand.
The Royal Government celebrates on Oct 23 the fifth anniversary of the Paris Peace
In traditional style, the Kingdom celebrates the King’s birthday, launching virtually
a month of holidays.
[MALAYSIAN KING TO PP??]
Ieng Sary’s DNUM and a claimed 4,400 soldiers are officially integrated with RCAF
Nov 6-7 during ceremonies in Pailin and Phnom Malai after Hun Sen demands a swift
merger of the rebel forces.
King Sihanouk leaves for Bejing for medical treatment on Nov 9 minus the usual red
Child sex charges against former Australian ambassador to Cambodia, John Holloway,
are thrown out by a Canberra magistrate Nov 13.
Hopes that kidnapped deminer Chris Howes and interpreter Houn Hourth were alive soar
Nov 21 after a senior military official tells reporters the men would return to Phnom
Penh the following day. They fail to appear as promised.
More than one million people throng the waterfront along the Tonle Sap in the capital
during the three day Water Festival.
Exiled Prince Norodom Siri-vudh declares from Paris he will return home soon. Speculation
is rife that he will come back on Dec 21, the one year anniversary of his departure.
Rainsy enters the monkhood for a brief stretch.
At a press conference at Hun Sen’s house, a group of self-professed KR underground
spies make allegations against Rainsy and Ranariddh, providing little evidence.
Kov Samuth, a Ministry of Interior official and brother-in-law to Hun Sen, is assassinated
outside a Phnom Penh restaurant.
Political tensions spark a military stand-off in Battambang, while Ranariddh is out
of the country. Funcinpec’s deputy governor Serei Kosal threatens to cut the province
off from Phnom Penh. One CPP policeman is wounded in shooting.
Ranariddh and Hun Sen attend an Asean summit in Jakarta which decides that Cambodia
will join the regional grouping at the same unspecified time as Burma and Laos. There
is concern this will mean a delay for Cambodia, but other reports say all three countries
are on track for admission in July next year.
Hun Sen is awarded a peace price and honorary doctorate by the little-heard-of
World Peace Corps, based in Korea.
Hun Sen Dec 15 warns Sirivudh not to return to Cambodia, saying he will move tanks
and rocket launchers to the airport to stop him. Within days, however, Hun Sen is
saying he will personally greet Sirivudh with thousands of flowers. People wonder
what Hun Sen is really thinking.
International Human Rights Day Dec 10 is less than an overwhelming success; an NGO
claims political bias by the organizers of a ceremony marking the occasion, the UN
withdraws funding for the event, and Hun Sen stages his own celebration.
Ranariddh has his head shaved and enters the monkhood for a week, also making a one-day
pilgramage to India.
Half the country it seems awaits Sirivudh’s announced return on Dec 21. But the day
comesand goes without the Prince.