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Hun Sen claims no coup in Cambodia

Hun Sen

Evacuations continue; ASEAN delays Cambodia's entry

July 10, 1997
Web posted at: 12:05 p.m. EDT (1605 GMT)

Latest developments:

PHNOM PENH, Cambodia (CNN) -- Cambodia's strongman Hun Sen on Thursday denied that his bloody takeover last weekend was a coup, and said his ousted co-premier was free to return but would have to stand trial for what he said were crimes.

Meanwhile, the U.S. embassy in Phnom Penh joined with other countries helping interested citizens evacuate the Southeast Asian country.

Also Thursday, the Association of South East Asian Nations (ASEAN) declared at an emergency meeting in Kuala Lumpur that it still recognized ousted First Prime Minister Prince as Cambodia's co-premier and postponed Cambodia's membership into the regional group.

Hun Sen: Ranariddh would face trial

Hun Sen, speaking through a translator, said his action was "not a coup d'etat."

"If I made a coup d'etat I would change the monarchy to a republic, suspend the constitution and arrest (Ranariddh's royalist party) ministers, but everything is still the same," he said.

Relaxed and joking, Hun Sen convened a cabinet meeting and spoke to reporters for the first time since he deposed his rival co-premier, who fled to France.

"I did not expel Ranariddh. Ranariddh fled by himself," he said. "I will not invite him to return but I will not ban him from coming back. Ranariddh can come back to face court."

Rather than a coup, Hun Sen said, what he did was solve a problem of anarchy.

He accused Ranariddh of negotiating peace with the radical Marxist Khmer Rouge guerrillas, illegally importing weapons and bringing Khmer Rouge troops into the capital.

Hun Sen also denied he was cracking down on Ranariddh loyalists. "There is no officer, no politician who has been arrested. All political parties remain untouched," he said.

Cambodians, other nationals continue leaving

Nevertheless, at least five outspoken members of parliament joined the exodus from Cambodia Thursday amid fears of reprisals against anyone opposing Hun Sen.

Ranariddh shared power with Second Prime Minister Hun Sen as co-heads of a shaky coalition government formed after U.N.-run elections in 1993.

Hun Sen said he regretted the shooting death of Ho Sok, a prominent Ranariddh supporter, and said he has ordered an investigation into the killing, which one reliable source said was carried out by executioners loyal to Hun Sen.

The United States was urging its citizens to leave Cambodia and was making help available to those who wanted to escape factional fighting that has claimed dozens of lives since the weekend.

Ann Luzzatto, a White House spokeswoman on national security issues, said 40 U.S. diplomats and dependents were told to leave Cambodia and that 21 remained at the U.S. mission.

Most U.S. nationals were believed to be traveling to Bangkok, Thailand, on charter flights. The United States was not planning to send in any planes of its own, said U.S. ambassador Kenneth Quinn.

There are about 1,200 U.S. citizens in Cambodia, 200 of whom left on evacuation flights on Tuesday and Wednesday.

Hun Sen upset at ASEAN action

ASEAN's statement postponing Cambodia's membership reiterated the group's policy of not interfering in a neighboring country's internal affairs, but it said the use of force in the feud between Hun Sen and Ranariddh made it necessary to delay Cambodia's entry indefinitely.

Hun Sen, clearly annoyed at the international community's criticism of his actions, told reporters that if ASEAN interfered in Cambodia's internal affairs, then "I'll decide not to enter, because I didn't die by not joining ASEAN before."

Correspondent Tom Mintier, Reporter John Raedler and Reuters contributed to this report.

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