Hun Sen asks Sihanouk for understanding; Sihanouk offers to go
PHNOM PENH, Cambodia (AP) _ His troops massing for a final assault on royalist forces, Cambodian strongman Hun Sen went abroad Monday to plead for understanding from his enemy’s father, King Norodom Sihanouk. Instead, the ailing, angry king offered to abdicate.
Hun Sen’s army chief of staff, Gen. Ke Kim Yan, predicted Monday that the royalist base of O’Smach, where about 15,000 refugees have fled, will be in Hun Sen’s hands within the week.
Hun Sen, who seized sole power in a bloody July 5-6 coup against his co-premier, Prince Norodom Ranariddh, said he wanted to explain his actions to the king and his ``government’s plans for working, especially its plans in relation to the elections.″
In a statement released before Hun Sen’s arrival in Beijing to plead his case, Sihanouk said he prepared a letter of abdication more than a week ago and that he was ready to relinquish his throne ``when it is possible for me to do so.″
Sihanouk, who is in China for medical treatment, said he still regards his son as prime minister and decried his removal as ``illegal and unconstitutional.″
The 74-year-old monarch was caustic, describing Hun Sen as a ``strongman,″ and seeking assurances ``that I can abdicate without risk of criticism from him.″
Sihanouk has talked previously about abdicating and has said he does not expect Cambodia’s monarchy to last much longer.
The king said he would meet Hun Sen and Ung Huot, Hun Sen’s handpicked successor to Ranariddh, on Tuesday in his residence. He also will meet Chea Sim, whom Sihanouk has designated acting head of state.
Sihanouk said he would not sign a royal decree approving Ung Huot _ whom he calls a puppet _ as premier but also would not stop Chea Sim from doing so. As a constitutionally limited king who reigns but does not rule, Sihanouk said he was not in a position to interfere in Cambodia’s parliamentary affairs.
Sihanouk said he would soon return to Cambodia for Buddhist observances and prayers.
Ke Kim Yan said his forces are roughly eight miles from the royalist base on the border with Thailand. Mortar and rocket fire could be heard Monday at the base, which is under the control of forces led by Gen. Nhek Bunchhay, Ranariddh’s top military commander.
Ranariddh, speaking in Bangkok, Thailand, insisted he and his royalist party were far from defeated.
Ranariddh said he had talked with Nhek Bunchhay, who told him that his forces were able to push Hun Sen’s troops back.
``We are still alive, and I think that our forces are fighting quite well,″ Ranariddh said.
Foreign ministers of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations met in Singapore on Monday to discuss the Cambodian crisis.
Indonesian Foreign Minister Ali Alatas said an ASEAN delegation had pressed Hun Sen, in an Aug. 2 meeting, to proceed with free and fair elections next May, in which all political parties can participate.
Hun Sen continues to insist that the prince must stand trial for treason if he returns to Cambodia. ``We have not heard any modification of that view,″ Alatas said.
In Phnom Penh, Hun Sen lashed out at the United States for freezing non-humanitarian aid to Cambodia, saying the move would affect the poor and force many aid agencies to close their doors.
In an interview with American reporters, Hun Sen predicted that this would ``be the death of democratic institutions outside the government.″
On Friday, Washington extended the suspension of about $40 million in planned or actual non-humanitarian aid until Hun Sen’s government makes concessions toward democracy.
Hun Sen attacked U.S. policy in Cambodia over the past 30 years, starting with the massive bombing during the Vietnam War that destabilized the country, triggered a civil war and led to the genocidal Khmer Rouge regime of 1975 to 1979.
``Don’t be mistaken _ the Cambodian people do not want to dwell on the memories of the past, but they don’t forget it either,″ Hun Sen said.