A Tragedy of No Importance, by Rich Garella and Eric Pape
viewed on - about - e-mail - print all




DESPITE QUINN’S EFFORTS, the coalition between Hun Sen’s party and Funcinpec quickly disintegrated.

The grenade attack, it turned out, was only the first round of a brutal, and one-sided, power struggle. Officials from both sides took to traveling around the capital in Toyota Land Cruisers flanked by motorcycle outriders carrying AK-47s and rocket launchers. Prince Ranariddh installed machine gun nests in bunkers at both ends of his block. Day after day, in rambling televised speeches, Hun Sen threatened to crack down on Funcinpec corruption.

The two forces tested each other in a series of small battles, first in the countryside and later in the heart of Phnom Penh. Cambodian reporters began asking their western colleagues if they would flee the country, as the foreigners did in 1975 when the Khmer Rouge took over.

On the afternoon of July 4, 1997, as if some secret telegraph system had been activated, Cambodians left their jobs, shuttered their shops, loaded their possessions onto bicycles and pedicabs, and pleaded wide-eyed to their foreign customers. Go home now—danger!

The Washington Post article pointing toward Hun Sen had been published just five days earlier, and the FBI were about to return to interview Brazil at last. The visit was postponed, again, on Quinn’s advice.[n]

Hun Sen’s forces started shelling Prince Ranariddh’s house and other Funcinpec bastions. Tanks blocked the major roads leading from the city. Black smoke rose from burning gas stations. Slum dwellers piled their small possessions into carts and fled toward the river. Foreigners in the wealthier city center huddled in their apartments, cracking nervous jokes.

Ranariddh’s forces collapsed within two days, whereupon Hun Sen’s troops pillaged stores, warehouses and hotels. At least two Funcinpec generals were taken to the forest and executed,[n] while a secretary of state for interior was brought to a back room in his own ministry and shot dead.[n] Other prisoners were tortured until they confessed to having links to the Khmer Rouge,[n] in an effort to support one of CPP’s official justifications for the coup. Some were reportedly held in Tuol Sleng, the old Khmer Rouge torture center turned genocide museum.

Prince Ranariddh and his loyalists found refuge in Bangkok, as did Rainsy.[n] Over the next two months, U.N. human rights investigators unearthed dozens of decomposing bodies,[s] some bearing the signs of excruciating torture. Ambassador Quinn, however, studiously refrained from referring to Hun Sen’s takeover as a coup. Under the law, that would have automatically cut off all U.S. aid.[n]

previous top next

A Tragedy of No Importance, by Rich Garella and Eric Pape
viewed on - about - e-mail - print all