Salient. Victoria University Student Newspaper. Vol. 34, No. 18. October 6 1971
Prince Norodom Sihanouk, it was officially claimed, had lost the confidence of his people when he was deposed as Cambodian Head of State last year. The present regime, by implication, deserved the world's support. But a remarkable series of interviews with highly placed, and for the moment anonymous figures in Phnom Penh reveals a very different pattern of conspiracy and intrigue - icluding a plan to assaisinate the Prince, if necessary, as early as six months before the coup. T.D. Allman here tells a story which remains a closely guarded secret inside the young republic.
Every political regime, using tactics ranging from the benign fiction of Plato's golden myths to the national brainwashing of Himmler's big lie, to some extent justifies its existence - and conceals its mistakes -through recorse to deception.
Somewhere in between, repeated again and again to the Cambodian population, as well as to foreign visitors, lie the claims of the Phnom Penh Government that last year's ousting of Prince Sihanouk, and the war that followed, were the result of spontaneous popular demonstrations.
The complete details of the moves leading to Sihanouk's going have long been closely guarded State secrets here. In a recent series of interviews, however, a number of high-ranking Cambodian officials for the first time consented on the condition that their names be not revealed for the present, to discuss candidly the events leading up to the change in Government and the beginning of the war.
The train of events re-created in the interviews, granted to me over the last month, is completely at variance with the offical version of the events disseminated through the various propaganda organs of the Cambodian Government. The interviews, nearly 18 months after the events seem important not only in an historical perspective, but in the light of the Government's pretensions that the Cambodian war was unavoidable, that Sihanouk had lost the confidence of his people - and that as a result the present regime is entitled to world-wide support.
According to these people, all of whom still hold high posts in Phnom Pehn, Marshall Lon No 1, his deputy, Sirik Matak, and important members of The Cambodian, high command and Parliament conspired to overthrow Norodom Sihanouk by force of arms and to assassinate him, if necessary, as early as six months before the coup actually occurred and the war started.
They also organised subsequent anti-Sihanouk demonstrations, which failed to attrack popular support and thus delayed the anti-Sihanouk group's timetable for ousting the Prince by 48 hours. On the eve of Sihanouk's eventual overthrow, on March 18, 1970, the Lon Nol-Sirik Matak forces arrested scores of pro-Sihanouk officials and surrounded the National Assemby with tanks. Only then did the Cambodian Parliament proceed to oust the Prince.
The crucial March demonstrations, the final steps in Sihanouk's removal from power, were planned in a series of high-level clandestine meetings heldin Phom Penh in the early months of 1970. Several of them were held in the homes of Lon Nol and Sirik Matak; others occurred in moving cars to avoid detection by S Sihanouk's secret police. Sihanouk himself was absent from the country at the time.
The result of the meetings, I was told, were personal orders issued by Lon Nol and Sirik Matak instructing the Minister of Education, at that time Chamm Sokhum, to arrange anti-Vietcong demonstrations in the Communist infiltrated province of Svay Rieng, and later in Phnom Penh itself Svay Rieng officials apparently feared the consequences of the demonstrations, but went ahead with them when they were assured that they "would help Sihanouk in his efforts to put pressure on the Communists to withdraw," as one of my informants put it.
After the small demonstration on March 8 of students and teachers in Svay Rieng, larger demonstrations were ordered for Phnom Penh. Government sound trucks urged the students to demonstrate, and officers of the Government sponsored Assembly of Youth arranged for students and teachers to assemble at the two Communist embassies.
However the actual sackings of the two embassies, which, together with Sihanouk's fall and a Cambodian ultimatum to the Communists, provided a casus belli, was arranged through the Cambodian high command and actually carried out by squads of military police in plain clothes under thy command of Lon Non, Lon Nol's younger brother.
The demonstration in Phnom Penh on March was just one part of a planned two-part effort to oust the Prince. "We planned two demonstrations" one of my sources said, "one for the eleventh to create the crisis, the other on March (1970) to provide the pretext for ousting Sihanouk."
Anti-Sihanouk tracts and anti-Vietnamese posters were prepared in advance at the Ministries of Information and Education. However the anti-Sihanouk demonstration on March 16 failed when pro-Sihanouk students surrounded the National Assembly. The Phnom Penh police, also pro-Sihanouk, that day arrested 20 hand-picked demonstrators carrying anti-Sihanouk tracts as they moved toward the Assembly. As a result, I was told, "it appeared for the moment we were foiled."
Inside the national assembly that day anti-Sihanouk deputies, including the acting president of the Assembly, In Tham (now Minister of the Interior), were waiting for the demonstration to materialise in the hope that it would stampede the Parliament into ousting Sihanouk. Instead, "we began to be attacked for our anti-Sihanouk statements. The Assembly adjourned in confusion."
That night, as Phnom Penh newspapers carried headlines saying "Coup d'etat aborted," another high ranking meeting was held at the home of Sisowath Sirik Matak. He summed up the situation when he said; "We have gone too far now to turn back."
The next day, with the approval of Lon Nol, the arrests began. Tables arrested or forced from office included 20 high ranking army officers, the governors of Phnom Penh and the surrounding Kandal province, and two members of the Cabinet. Only after Lon Nol's troops had taken over the civilian Government of Phnom Penh, and tanks had surrounded the Assembly building, did the actual vote ousting Sihanouk take place.
The events of March 18 are alleged to be but the final stage of more than six months' efforts to depose Sihanouk (which began shortly after the former chief of state, in an effort to put pressure on the Communists, named Lon Nol premier and commander in chief of the Cambodian armed forces in mid-1969)
According to the sources, the anti-Sihanouk faction was ready to oust Sihanouk in December 1969, during a national congress held in Phnom Penh. The sources said that 4,000 military police and, solider, again under the command of Lon Nol, were ordered to pack the meeting which Sihanouk used as a sounding board for his programme. Seeing he was out-gunned, Sihaouk let the Congress vote for Sirik Matak's policies rather than dissolve the Government and call for new elections, as planned. Shortly afterwards Sihanouk left Phnom Penh for France, telling a confidant; "They are trying to make a Sukarno out of me."
New light is also shed on the role played by Lon Nol in the events leading up to Sihanouk's ousting. The Premier absented himself from Phnom Penh during much of the crisis, and some observers have suspected that he, unlike Sirik Matak, was not wholeheartedly behind the moves to remove the Chief of State. However, my sources agreed that Lon Nol all along had manipulated events from afar. "We always acted with his approval, on his instructions. He ran the Government - and our plans - by telephone from Paris."
Interestingly enough, my informants, in the course of half a dozen interviews, never named Sihanouk's foreign policy of maintaining good relations with the Vietnamese Communists as a reason for ousting him.
"Frankly," said one of them, "Sihanouk was as anti-Communist as we were." Another said; "He had power too long. We wanted it. The only way to get at him was by attacking the Vietcong." Military orders, signed by Lon Nol, directed Government troops to assasinate the Chief of State if he returned to Cambodia. The main fear of the moment was that Sihanouk would return, rally the country to him, and hold elections, which he would win "because he was so popular with the peasants."
Perhaps the most striking elements of the anti-Sihanouk conspiracy - for such it seems to have been - were its total lack of spontaneity, and the plotters' easy sacrifice of good relations with the all-powerful Vietnamese Communists in the interests of domestic and political expediency.
Local Body Stakes
A small but attentive congregation at Victoria University were recently privileged to attend a requiem mass for local body elections in Wellington. Celebrants were His Holiness Sir Francis Kitts, Cardinal A.P. O'Shea and Father D.M. McMillan. A vain attempt to disguise the sombre nature of the occasion as a secular 'election meeting' by all three celebrants was easily perceied by the majority of the audience, which displayed a nostalgic desire to return to more traditional forms of these services.
Mr McMillan, pet shop proprietor ordained in the 'Social Credit' faith, commenced the service in the most irreverent and unholy fashion, by, in effect, discounting the need for clergy in Wellington local body politics. He wanted a city manager, a taxation expert, a minibus feeder service, a monorail and a municipal waste-dispoer. McMillan inadvertently revealed that his schoolboy image was in fact more than skin-deep when he said that the cost of a municipal waste-dispoer was "very difficult to calculate"; a blunder that may cost him his holy orders if it reaches the hierarchy of his own faith.
A strange hush fell over the congregation when a reincarnation of Cordell Hull rose to speak. Unfortunately it was in fact A.P. O'Shea, former Secretary of Federated Farmers, who has emerged from retirement to take Wellington back to nature. Mr. page 5 O'Shea's slogan for these elections' is "Come on Wellington", a gem of originality which should mobilise and radicalise a broad coalition of citizens behind him. In a manner befitting Billy Graham and thus suitable for such a serious religious occasion, he said, "I'm going to ask you young people to give up half a day a year",...to help fill in the deplorable potholes behind the War Memorial. "There's a good deal of altruism about, if I become mayor I'm going to tap it." (Mr O'Shea had earlier revealed that he had already been given a substantial contribution from a friend who was a plutocrat). Mr O'Shea made reference to his long association with the university -"I'm a life member of the Football Club", he said. Although he obviously has no chance of victory as a conservative candidate fighting a conservative mayor, it is to Mr O'Shea's credit, that he managed to provide the only memorable comments of all three candidates.
- "I would never run down parks" (answering a question about houses being replaced by parks).
- "I'm always willing to see two points of view - my own and the wrong one" (on his responsiveness to pressure groups).
- "If you all give a hand with the potholes, I'll give a hand too" (Mr O'Shea is sixty-eight years old.)
Doing his by-now tiresome Blossom performance yet again, the present occupant of the Holy See, Sir Francis Kitts struck an unforgiveable blow at intern-denomin-ationalism by appealing to the congregation to return a full Labour ticket onto the Wellington City Council. Out of sixteen members of the Council, he said we have six Labour men. To Graeme Mackay's cry of "What about Olive!?", Sir Francis demonstrated his amazing grasp of biology by retorting, "she does as good a job as most men; better than you." If you want direct representation on the council, he cried, "give us David Shand and Warwick McKeen." Sadly there were no offers. After an historical discussion of the great Labour Councillors of the past, including Bob Semple and Peter Fraser, Kitts surprisingly referred to the Labour Party's policy. However to the relief of the congregation, be only talked about the great deal of study and sound ideas that had gone into it and did not, thank God, mention what the policy was. Once again, Kitts demonstrated his ability to get to the guts of any problem, when he exclaimed that the biggest problem confronting Wellington City was one of money. He promised to put pressure on the Government for additional sources of revenue, a promise which might well come true if the present supply of dwarfs in the Cabinet is not speedily replaced.
While it is definitely the responsibility of any 'election' commentator to suggest whom to vote for, I sadly urge all voters to stay away from the polls on October 9th. The method of appointing the incumbent to the Holy See of Wellington must be changed and be made, as it always should have been; in Rome. - R.I.P.
The Most Feared Man in the West
Storm clouds are brewing over the little Critter Country town of New Bigotsville and the impending deluge could leave a permanent scar. The trouble lies embedded in a war of personal conflicts between the town's Sherrif, Rob Muldoon, and Judge, Jack Marshall. Their vendetta finally festered to a head over the nomination of Brian Brooks for the position of Assistant Judge, by the town mayoral council.
Sherrif Muldoon, feared and revered in many quarters as a ruthless and uncompromising lawman, made his views on the matter clearly known in a vitriolic statement in the Critter Country Daily Gazette. He poignantly emphasised some aspects of Brook's background which he found undesirable - notably a tendency to stray too far away from the corral. It is obvious though, that the good Sherrifs outburst was just an attempt to hog-tie his main rival for Boss of the Prairies, Judge Marshall. By knocking the Council's man for the job, he attempted to sweet-talk the townspeople into believing that only he knew all the answers.
The present big-shot of New Bigotsville, Mayor Keith Holyoake, has been conspicuously silent on the malignant situation which has developed, leaving his most senior side-kicks to settle their differences themselves. A showdown between the two arch rivals seems periolously close and could result in one being carried off to Boot Hill or at least hitting the trail to other parts. It is even being rumoured that the Sherrif, a former humble costing clerk, could return to his metier as Head Teller of the Dodge City World Bank or even to join Pinkerton's Detective Agency.
Sherrif Muldoon has a mean reputation as a lawman not to be tangled with. He totes a lightning fast draw and the 30 notches in his belt are veritable testimony to this. Among his many exploits, one more recent was his taking single-handed of that notorious bandit, "Red" Anderson, who held up the Northern Drivers' Union's stagecoach several times and got away "with murder". These holdups over the years have cost the Union hundreds of thousands of dollars, says the Sherrif.
Also to his credit say many of the townspeople, the Sherrif has made it safe for honest citizens to walk the streets at night, by his constant campaigning against town drifters and long-[unclear: haic] spongers. Since Muldoon was appointed Sherrif in 1967 he has really set about cleaning up the town, and it has been a case of heaven help any saddle tramps who got in his way. His hard-line tactics have incurred sharp criticism and some of his shooting at times has been decidedly off-target.
Another prominent and always law-abiding citizen agitated by the Sherrifs purgatory tirades is Norm Kirk, the proprietor of the "Ace of Spades" saloon He has been working hard lately to arouse public feeling against Muldoon and it would suit him to see the good Sherrif ousted from office. He claimed that Muldoon was exceeding his territory by horning in and attacking decisions made by the Town Council and Kirk even went on to criticise the Mayor, Keith Holyoake, saying that he should have put the handcuffs on Muldoon and his voracious ravings.
He says that much of the present unrest in the town is due to the near-sighted attitudes of the Town Council's policies, but he fails to suggest any constructive alternatives. Perhaps, he has ideas of running the town himself with the help of his hired bar-room cronies. Kirk and his desperadoes run a pretty tight saloon with a good deal of backing from the wealthy businessmen. A fiendishly shrewd poker player, owning the biggest gambling house in town, he could decide that it is time to lay his cards on the table.
However, Jolyoake is a mayor of many years standing, and is not likely to surrender his office without a light. He would not be gunned down easily as many have already found much to their chagrin. He has the sort of inscrutable defence which wouldn't will, even if threatened by the bore of a colt 44. Besides that, if anyone tried to lasso him from behind they would most likely find themselves having to deal with a posse of irate cattle-ranchers and sod-busters.
The present mood of the town, after Sherrif Muldoon's warning shots fired over the heads of his opponents, seems to be one of suspended bewilderment. However, these badly-aimed shots could ricochet and the Sherrif could find himself filled full of his own lead.
Some of the town's eminent citizens say that he should climb down from his high horse that he is only using his badge as a front to his personal diatribes. New Bigotsville's epitome of law and order, on the other hand, claims he is just cracking down on the town's no-account varmits.
The situation was not improved, when Brian Brooks decided that the town smelled and high-tailed-it for the hills. This spurred Judge Marshall into action. He publicly rebuked the Sherrif and assured that it was he who was the law innovator in the town and in future the Sherrif would stick to enforcing the Council's decisions.
The big question, as the mayoral elections next year draw closer, is whether the bitterness between Marshall and Muldoon will lead to a public duel on Main street. And the last straw would be the good Sherrif tellig the Judge to get out of town by sundown.