"Coup debate 111"
Phnom Penh Post
Letter to the Editor
Friday, 23 September 1994
Unfortunately, Chris Horwood, in his entirely justifiable 'attack' on Phnom Penh Post (3/17, 26 Aug-8 Sept, p.9), did not say enough, and did not say it right, permitting Nate Thayer to respond disingenuously, further misleading PPP readers - not the first time this has happened. The question is not whether Chakrapong and Sin Song were guilty, or whether Thayer thinks they were innocent. What comes through in Thayer's report is that he is more sympathetic to them than to the government, even if they were guilty. The purpose behind Thayer's article was to discredit the CPP, and this was also the purpose of his interview with Sar Kheng, which he mischievously, brought up as a balance against his coverage of Chakrapong.
Questions? Thayer's first sentences expressed disbelief in the government line on the "alleged coup", 'reporting', without the slightest evidence, that it involved "at the least .. powerful elements of the security forces", an attribution which excludes both Chak-rapong and Sin Song. The first sentence in his second paragraph, that " more questions were raised than answered by the govern-ment's explanation", was also without evidence other than his own speculations, and a dishonest swipe at the government. And, the coup "has exposed a traumatic - and dangerous - split in the Cambodian people's Party", again without explanation to enlighten PPP readers. Need I go on ? Virtually every paragraph, if not every sentence, contains an editorial; and I would have no objection in principle, although I might still argue against Thayer's reasoning, if his piece had been presented as a PPP editorial, or Op-Ed, but not as front-page news.
As news it was impermissible to speculate that "the coup was organized at the highest level by dominant figures within the CPP", and sourcing to "some intelligence analysts and government officials" is without value, particularly after Thayer had named government officials with a variety of opinions. Equally slippery was to suggest it was because the CPP "are unused to dispute or dissent", as though they were the only Cambodian faction with that weakness.
One point neglected by Thayer is equally revealing of his purpose. Nowhere in his front page article, nor even in the page 8 article which directly touched on the subject, did he mention that Chakrapong and Sin Song have been sulking for months because they were dropped from the CPP lists of victorious election candidates in May 1993 and have been trying ever since to regain seats in the National Assembly.
What Thayer did say about the events of May-June last year is even more shady than his speculations about the coup this July, and the disingenuosness goes right to the 'highest level' of PPP editorship. Thayer says that the June 1993 secession led by Chakrapong and Sin Song, following their dismissal by the CPP, "had the covert backing of their Cambodian People's Party leaders - including Hun Sen, Chea Sim, and Sar Kheng". This is the umpteenth time Thayer has written this, without, so far as I have seen, presenting any evidence. The accusation in fact goes back to a confidential analysis by Stephen Heder under his Untac cover, and it had to be confidential because it was so lacking in substance. At the time I prepared a counter analysis, distributed on June 24-25 1993 to PPP and to other journalists, Embassies and Untac offices.
Thayer has ignored the counter argument, and his employers allow him to get away with it, thereby misleading readers like Horwood, who know no better than to repeat with Thayer that the "secession movement.. played a vital role in forcing Funcinpec to accept a greater involvement in government of the defeated CPP".
On this subject Thayer, supported by Michael Hayes, has been exercising self-censorship every time he puts pen to paper.
- Michael Vickery, Penang.