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Cablegate: Hor Namhong, Sam Rainsy Seek Embassy Intercession

VZCZCXRO2711
OO RUEHCHI RUEHDT RUEHHM RUEHNH
DE RUEHPF #0399/01 1340904
ZNY CCCCC ZZH
O 130904Z MAY 08
FM AMEMBASSY PHNOM PENH
TO RUEHC/SECSTATE WASHINGTON DC IMMEDIATE
INFO RUCNASE/ASEAN MEMBER COLLECTIVE PRIORITY

C O N F I D E N T I A L SECTION 01 OF 04 PHNOM PENH 000399

SIPDIS

STATE FOR D, P, DRL, EAP/MLS

E.O. 12958: DECL: 05/13/2018
TAGS: PGOV KDEM PHUM PREL KJUS CB
SUBJECT: HOR NAMHONG, SAM RAINSY SEEK EMBASSY INTERCESSION
TO FIND COMPROMISE ON LAW SUIT AND AVOID ELECTION CRISIS

Classified By: POL/EC CHIEF GREG LAWLESS FOR REASONS 1.4 (B,D)

1. (C) SUMMARY: Foreign Minister Hor Namhong summoned the
Ambassador on May 8 for a one-on-one meeting to explain to
the Ambassador his defamation and disinformation cases
against Sam Rainsy regarding Rainsy's assertion that Hor
Namhong was a former Khmer Rouge prison camp chief. The aged
and increasingly sclerotic Foreign Minister, saying he
realized the negative impact of a law suit in the run-up to
national elections, requested that the Ambassador speak to
Rainsy to seek a compromise short of the lawsuit he said he
had reluctantly filed to defend his honor. In a series of
meetings on May 12, the two sides displayed to Ambassador
some mutual rancor but also possible agreement on a way
forward: Hor Namhong would drop the criminal disinformation
charge, both sides would cease their war of words in the
press, and the civil defamation suit would proceed through
the courts. Rainsy confided that if he could not win a civil
defamation suit on the merits, he promised to pay the fine,
but stood by his general assertion that Hor Namhong had once
acted like a Nazi concentration camp "kapo". Rainsy is
taking risks with his high-visibility slur campaign (without
much evidence) but is characteristically brazen in reminding
voters of the ruling Cambodian Peoples Party's ties to the
Khmer Rouge (KR) while undermining the CPP election platform
plank that the CPP liberated the country from the KR. With
Rainsy's assertion that he will have his lawyer talk to Hor
Namhong's lawyer about a compromise, the Embassy is moving to
the sidelines to watch as this game plays out. END SUMMARY.


Hor Namhong Paints Himself as a Victim
--------------------------------------

2. (SBU) In apparent reaction to public remarks by the
Ambassador expressing concern about the possible damaging
effect on elections of the defamation and disinformation law
suits filed by Hor Namhong against Sam Rainsy on April 22,
the Minister of Foreign Affairs told the local press May 7
that he regretted having to file the case but saw no other
way to defend his honor. While saying he would leave it to
the courts to rule on the two charges, he noted especially a
recent Radio Free Asia interview that repeated the charges
against Hor Namhong and indicated this was proof of Sam
Rainsy's intentional spreading of disinformation. Responding
to the Foreign Minister's request for a meeting on an
unstated topic, the Ambassador May 8 walked into Hor
Namhong's otherwise empty office, where the Foreign Minister
sat alone, with no note takers.

3. (C) For the next 30 minutes Hor Namhong recited an
impassioned, almost tearful soliloquy on his travails as an
inmate in the Khmer Rouge Boeung Trabek re-education camp
located in Phnom Penh's suburbs. Hor Namhong asserted that
he was not a camp director, but eventually became head of a
committee of prisoners in one of three adjacent camps. He
stated that he worked alongside other prisoners in fields,
often applying human excrement to the crops, acquiring a
smell that none of the prisoners could wash away. Noting
that both of his predecessors had been taken away and
executed, he claimed to have evidence that he, too, was on a
Khmer Rouge black list of victims to be executed. He cited
evidence collected by his son at the S-21 torture prison
after the KR era that one of his predecessors had named him
as a CIA collaborator (NOTE: a charge that quite frequently
led to imprisonment, torture and execution by the paranoid
Khmer Rouge).

4. (C) As for allegations that he caused the removal,
disappearance, or execution of fellow inmates, Hor Namhong
said that he lost more than 30 members of his extended family
during the KR era. One of his sisters held in a camp
adjacent to his was eventually executed, he said, although he
did not learn of her fate until the 1980s. He claimed that
one senior KR official now being detained by the Khmer Rouge
Tribunal knew about his being listed for eventual execution.
Hor Namhong's lawyer states he has requested the testimony of
S-21 torture prison director Duch.

Regret at Filing Case; Indications of Compromise
--------------------------------------------- ---

5. (C) The Ambassador said that a civil defamation suit was
one thing, but a criminal disinformation suit with possible
jail time would have negative effects on the political
atmosphere and the upcoming parliamentary election and he
urged the Foreign Minister to drop that case. While he had
to defend his reputation, Hor Namhong said that he deeply
regretted bringing the case against Sam Rainsy. He knew that
it could affect the election climate, but felt that Sam

PHNOM PENH 00000399 002 OF 004


Rainsy kept spreading the disinformation again and again,
including during Rainsy's recent ten-day trip in Canada and
the U.S. This was spreading disinformation with the intent
to destroy Hor Namhong's honor, he bitterly noted. Hor
Namhong said that he had won a defamation suit against then
Prince Sihanouk in France in 1992 related to similar
accusations. Among the three witnesses called by Sihanouk's
lawyers they all agreed that Hor Namhong had worked alongside
other prisoners, had been appointed by the KR to perform as a
committee head, and that other KR cadres controlled the camp,
he recounted. He recalled that in addition to the Boeung
Trabek camp head, a Khmer Rouge leader known as Sovann, there
were three KR cadres who came every day to supervise the camp
and thus he had no power as prisoner committee head.

6. (C) Hor Namhong asked the Ambassador to speak to Sam
Rainsy and handed over segments of an English translation of
a recent Khmer press interview he gave. The excerpts
included closing remarks by Hor Namhong that he would be
willing to drop the case if Sam Rainsy publicly apologized.
The Ambassador agreed to Hor Namhong's request, and closed by
again urging the foreign minister to drop the criminal case.

Sam Rainsy Adamant
------------------

7. (C) The Ambassador May 12 relayed to Sam Rainsy the gist
of Hor Namhong's appal, indicating that it appeared Hor
Namhong was still open to some form of compromise. He asked
Rainsy what he thought about striking a compromise in this
case. The Ambassador noted that the issue arose at a time
when he was about to depart the country and was worried there
was little the Embassy could do if this should develop into a
more serious case. The Ambassador condemned the criminal
disinformation law and told Rainsy he had asked Hor Namhong
to drop the criminal case. Noting Cambodia's was not a
defamation law that Americans would support, the Ambassador
commented that it was nonetheless not inconsistent with other
democracies' defamation laws (such as in France or Japan).
The Ambassador also indicated that there appeared to be
little evidence to support Rainsy in the civil defamation
case.

8. (C) In the 30-minute, private meeting with the
Ambassador, Sam Rainsy adamantly defended his allegations
against Hor Namhong, claiming - but not supporting with
evidence - his allegations that Hor Namhong was: (1) a true
Khmer Rouge prison camp "chief" with the power to finger
inmates for removal from the camp (and eventual execution);
(2) the KR camp leader who alone presided over daily
self-criticism sessions where - Sam Rainsy believed - he did
indeed criticize prisoners who disappeared soon thereafter;
and (3) an inmate with special privileges which Hor Namhong
also secured for his wife (head of camp women) and son (head
of camp youth). He compared Hor Namhong to a "kapo" in a WW
II Nazi concentration camp. Kapo's were privileged inmates
serving administrative roles and could be brutal toward other
prisoners, he recited. Like a kapo, when Hor Namhong pointed
his finger at inmates, they later disappeared. Kapo's were
eventually replaced as new batches of inmates came in, Rainsy
said, conceding the point that Hor Namhong might eventually
have been executed, but noting that only confirmed his role
as a KR collaborator. He alluded to other sources - former
inmates - who might back up this assertion, but was not
specific. A 2001 Phnom Post interview with the late
FUNCINPEC Senator Keo Bun Thouk was one source. (NOTE:
Rainsy apparently began seeking this evidence in earnest only
after Hor Namhong had filed his cases against him. END
NOTE.)

9. (C) Rainsy expressed his strong belief that Hor Namhong
was more than the ordinary prisoner committee head he claimed
to be. He indicated he had not defamed Hor Namhong, but
later conceded that he could not win a civil case concerning
defamation in a Cambodian court.

10. (C) Rainsy was also strident on the criminal charge of
spreading disinformation, noting that this UNTAC era law came
about at a time when the UN "had to be tough" because the
Khmer Rouge had abandoned the truce and was bearing arms
against the UN's effort to bring democracy to Cambodia. But
that was a different era, and in this time of peace and
stability, given the original spirit and intent of the UNTAC
law, such a law was no longer necessary, he said
emphatically.

What did Sam Rainsy Say or Do?
-----------------------------

11. (C) As he has done in a number of public interviews

PHNOM PENH 00000399 003 OF 004


since his April 17 remarks about Hor Namhong, Rainsy first
tried to tell the Ambassador that he did not implicate the
"current" foreign minister, but just referred to one foreign
minister among many serving since the KR era. (NOTE: In
fact, Rainsy referred to the current deputy prime minister
and foreign minister and alleged in front of a crowd of
hundreds that, as a KR prison camp chief, Hor Namhong had
made people disappear. END NOTE.) Rainsy also tried to say
that he was not spreading disinformation in the proper sense
of that term, since the "information" must be of some
sensitive or confidential nature.

Was Hor Namhong Chief of KR Boeung Trabek Prison Camp?
--------------------------------------------- ---------

12. (C) Telling the Ambassador what he later told the local
press on May 12, Rainsy tried to tick off a number of points
in his favor, saying he had read the complete S-21 prison
confession of Van Peany which named Hor Namhong as a CIA
collaborator. Hor Namhong succeeded Van Peany and Van Peany
is described as the "chief" of the camp in those KR
documents. Thus, Rainsy concluded, Hor Namhong must have
been the camp "chief" also. Rainsy also recounted an
elaborate story about only those with five counts of "CIA
collaborator" against them being sent to S-21; thus, Hor
Namhong still had four to go.

13. (C) Relying heavily on a feature article from The
Cambodia Daily published on July 1, 2000, he cited sources
who said Hor Namhong was a "chief" at the camp. (NOTE: The
same article cites other sources clearly stating Hor Namhong
was a middle man under KR cadres. END NOTE.) Rainsy insisted
that Princess Sisowath Ayravady had implicated Hor Namhong in
disappearances. However, in the article Rainsy cites, the
Princess notes only that Hor Namhong was an "ambiguous"
person whose role as potential collaborator could not be
known. (COMMENT: Current sources in the Khmer Rouge
Tribunal have a similar view of Rainsy's allegations - that
Rainsy's black-and-white accusation is based on a grey
situation about which there is little or no evidence. END
COMMENT.)

A Rainsy Concession
--------------------

14. (C) Rainsy told the Ambassador he was still not certain
he would answer the first summons to appear and give
testimony at the Phnom Penh Municipal court on May 22.
(NOTE: He expects to depart for France on May 13 and returns
on May 21. END NOTE.) Rainsy later told the local press that
he would not make an appearance at the court. Nonetheless,
he told the Ambassador, he was willing to concede that he
might lose the civil defamation case on the merits, and
promised in that case to pay any fine levied without creating
a crisis about criminal penalties if he did not pay the civil
fine. He would thus allow the courts to uphold Hor Namhong's
honor but only if the criminal disinformation suit was
dropped against him.

Hor Namhong: Rainsy's Lawyer Should Call my Lawyer
--------------------------------------------- -----

15. (C) In a meeting with Hor Namhong late in the day on May
12, the Ambassador relayed Rainsy's message, noting again the
bad effect this case was having on the election climate and
particularly stressing that the criminal disinformation suit
was objectionable and that in the United States all public
officials were subject to almost any characterization.

16. (C) Hor Namhong commented that Rainsy was stubborn, but
said that if Rainsy's lawyer called his lawyer, he would
consider dropping the criminal case. He noted further with
some disappointment that the pro-SRP press continued to
publish the allegations. (He did not note the pro-CPP press
was also publishing more accounts in Hor Namhong's favor,
including an interview that day with MFA Secretary of State
Long Visalo who was also at Boeung Trabek.)

17. (C) In a follow up call to relay this information,
Rainsy told the Ambassador that he would sign a letter that
evening to assign a lawyer to the case and that he hoped the
two sides could meet by the end of the week. In the
meantime, Rainsy also agreed that the two sides should try
avoid raising the issue in the press and that their
negotiations should be discreet. (NOTE: This conversation
took place after Rainsy held a very blunt press conference
implicating Hor Namhong's family as KR collaborators. END
NOTE.)

Comment

PHNOM PENH 00000399 004 OF 004


-------

18. (C) Sam Rainsy finds himself embroiled in another
headline-grabbing defamation brouhaha that pokes the CPP in
the eye and raises issues of freedom of speech and fair
comment about a public figure. However, it is unclear in
this case what Rainsy's objectives are for his party or the
electorate. At the same time, our legal sources indicate
that his civil case does not appear to be strong.
Furthermore, if the criminal case is not dropped, Rainsy
could force a constitutional crisis over his parliamentary
immunity. Reaching a compromise soon would help set the
stage for more smoothly run elections.

19. (C) If the lawyers cannot work out a solution to drop
the criminal disinformation charges soon, the pall these
charges will cast over the elections cannot be ignored.
MUSSOMELI

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