PHNOM PENH — ; Police loyal to Cambodia's longtime Prime Minister Hun Sen have forced the country's acting head of state to flee the country in an apparent purge inside the ruling Cambodian People's Party (CPP). CPP president Chea Sim, who heads a rival party faction, was removed after he refused to sign a controversial bill aimed at resolving a year-long political crisis.
"They used the police forces under [national police chief] Hok Lundy to surround the house of Chea Sim" in the early hours of the morning, Agence France-Presse reported, quoting an unnamed diplomatic source. "Negotiations occurred and the deal was that he had to leave the country with General Hok Lundy escorting him out. They forced him out of the country."
But a CPP spokesman denied any friction. "He was not forced out. He decided himself to go for medical treatment," CPP spokesman Khieu Kanharith told AFP, confirming that Hok Lundy was in Thailand along with other party officials.
He acknowledged forces had descended near Chea Sim's house, which is next to the Senate of which Chea Sim is president, but said they had done so at the request of the Constitutional Council which feared there had been a security breach in the area.
"This is an intention to scare foreign investors and foreign tourists from coming into Cambodia. The fact is that there is no politician [from the CPP] who has left the country."
Four-star Gen. Hok Lundy, with authority over police throughout Cambodia, denied reports that 20 members of the National Assembly had fled the country and insisted that Chea Sim had left Phnom Penh to seek medical care in Bangkok.
"I think it is a rumor to physically incite Cambodian people who live peacefully in the country. This is an intention to scare foreign investors and foreign tourists from coming into Cambodia. The fact is that there is no politician [from the CPP] who has left the country," he told RFA's Khmer service.
Three CPP officials have accompanied Chea Sim to Bangkok for several days while he undergoes medical treatment, before flying back to Phnom Penh between July 16-20, Hok Lundy said.
Opposition leader Sam Rainsy meanwhile said he too had left Cambodia (read an English translation of his statement) and described events there as "a real coup d'etat ." He also vowed to rally international opposition to the new government.
"I am now outside the country. I cannot say where I am now because I am moving around, and [going] further away," he told RFA's Khmer service. "The reason is because there has been a real coup d'etat in Cambodia."
"The reason (I am going away) now because there is a real coup d'etat in Cambodia."
"This morning we saw the presence of the armed forces, armed security police surrounding the residence of Samdech Chea Sim, the Chamkar Mon area, the Senate building, and all that," he said. "This is the use of armed foces to threaten the heads of the national institutions. Samdech Chea Sim is the acting Head of State, is the president of the Senate."
"I must leave for the United States and Europe, and I will ask the international community to strongly condemn the coup taking place this morning, July 13," he said.
Hun Sen and Funcinpec leader Prince Norodom Ranariddh, who head the ruling coalition, recently agreed on legislation making it easy for the ruling coalition to ratify key executive and legislative posts by allowing them to be bundled into one vote.
It was signed into law by new acting head of state Nhek Bun Chhay. King Norodom Sihanouk is currently staying in Pyongyang, North Korea.
Hun Sen had pushed for the bill for fear that Funcinpec, a reluctant coalition ally, might not support his prime ministership if separate votes were held.
But critics, including the opposition Sam Rainsy Party, say the move violates the constitution, claiming it requires separate votes on those appointments.
King Sihanouk expressed his disapproval of the bill in a letter late Monday to Chea Sim.
"The request is a matter that leads to severe friction in our nation," Sihanouk wrote in the letter, written in the Cambodian language and posted on his official Web site. "I cannot take any responsibility for such an enormously grave affair."
The king advised Chea Sim, as acting head of state before he left the country early Tuesday, "to sign or not sign the bill according to your conscience."
Constitutional Council member Son Soubert, speaking to RFA's Khmer service, rejected the legislation as "illegal."
"I don't see anywhere [anything] that says that what was done was legal," he said. "The documents that Mr. Nhiek Bun Chhay had, titled 'The Additional Laws to the Constitution,' ... were ostensibly meant to ensure the normal operations of the government institutions, [but] I don't see any reason, any urgency to have additional laws. I have not seen anything unsual that requires us to introduce a constitutional amendment."
The Thai-language online newspaper, The Manager , reported separately Tuesday that Hun Sen had ordered troops not only to surround Chea Sim's residence but also to cut off water and power supplies.
It also reported low-level activity at the Trad provincial border pass. Capt. Suwathi Chitdecha, commander of the Marine Task Force in Trad Province, was quoted as describing the situation in Cambodia as "volatile."
"The commander, therefore, is giving all armed personnel guarding the border of Trad Province an order to strictly control the cross-border movements," the newspaper reported. "The unit is ordered to immediately inform the command if any senior Cambodian government officials or Chea Sim supporters want to get into Thailand."
On the Web:
Read the English translation of the story from the Thai online newspaper, The Manager
King Norodom Sihanouk's Web site