A Change of Guard

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Wednesday, 2 January 2008

A Biograhy of Prince Norodom Chantaraingsey- part four (final).

Prince Chantaraingsey as a military commander.
This is the final of a four-part series of a biography of Prince Norodom Chantaraingsey. This biography was compiled by Mr. Hass Savoeun, a member of the Buddhist Khmer Center in the USA (http://www.ibuddhi.org/about.php) and was republished in the website of the Khmer Center in Switzerland, adding the front page picture by Lok Ly Diep of Angkor Borei News in the USA. The biography is translated from Khmer to English by Khmerization.
Previously I cited Mr. Hass Savoeun as a member of the Khmer Center in Switzerland. He is in fact a member of the Buddhist Khmer Center in the USA. I wish to thank Lok Perom Uch for bringing to my attention about my erroneous citations. I thank him for his correction and wish to apologise to all concerned for my errors.
7. The re-integration with the government of King Norodom Sihanouk
On the 9th of November 1953 King Norodom Sihanouk declared full independence from France. But some armed resistance fighters hiding the jungle had not defected to and re-integrated with the government yet. Up until 1953 there were only two Issarak groups that had joined with the government and these two groups joined with the government before the declaration of full independence from France, which established the protectorate in Cambodia for more than 90 years. The first to re-integrate was Dap Chhuon’s group and then Puth Chhay and Seap’s group and the third group was Ouch Nilpich and Oum’s group. Other big groups, which had not yet joined with the government are Prince Norodom Chantaraingsey’s group, a group under the direct command of Son Ngoc Thanh, which included Kao Tak, Duong Chhoun, Duongchan Sarath and Son Ngoc Minh’s group, which included Tou Samouth and Sieu Heng.
In January 1954 the 4 Super Powers convened the conference to end the Indochinese War. A major concern of King Sihanouk’s government was the many remnant resistance fighters who continued the resistance, including Son Ngoc Thanh’s group which was the biggest group and was supported politically and militarily by the Viet Minh of North Vietnam. So the best way was for the government to open a negotiation with those group to convince them to defect and re-integrate with the government and the Royal Cambodian Armed Forces.
Bou Horng, who was a government chief negotiator, met with Savang Vong and Prince Chantaraingsey to discuss about the re-integration of their armed fighters into the Royal Cambodian Armed forces by allowing each group to retain their status as the “battalion” in the national army. At that time Prince Chantaraingsey had tens of thousands of troops but the government only officially agreed to re-integrate about 1000 of them into the national army and this number only deserved status as a “battalion”. King Sihanouk has offered to appoint Prince Chantaraingsey with the military rank of a major and two of his other colleagues were to be appointed as captains in the national army. However, the offer was less than satisfactory, but Prince Chantaraingsey agreed unconditionally with the term of the offer.
On the day of the official re-integration ceremony at Prince Chantaraingsey’s military barracks at Chbar Morn district in Kampong Speu province in February 1954 the government provided military uniforms to each of the Prince’s 1000 fighters. But the official numbers of armed fighters re-integrated into the national army was only 300 soldiers.
As promised in the initial negotiations, Prince Chantaraingsey was appointed as a major, Him Khan and Chan Tor Tress were appointed as captains, Sok Seng Roeung Moni was appointed as a two-striped sergeant (Sak Pi) and Ny Vanthy as a one-striped sergeant (Sak Muoy). This unit was named a “Third Mobile Autonomous Battalion” which was a battalion numbering next to Savang Vong’s battalion which had been re-integrated in the same day. In February 1954 Song Ngoc Thanh sent Ea Sichau to negotiate with the government for the re-integration but for some unknown reasons the negotiation failed.
After that Kao Tak, along with his fighters, defected to the government but he did not demand for any position within the government. As a result of the Geneva Conference in 1954, one by one, those imminent Issarak leaders who followed Son Ngoc Thanh, returned to the society. So since 1955, during the Sangkum Reastr Niyum, Son Ngoc Thanh’s groupd had shrunk significantly. As for Chantaraingsey’s fighters, because only one-thirds of them were officially re-integrated, they have to donate two-thirds of their monthly salary to the other two-thirds of their comrades who were not accepted to the national army.
For more than 7 months the government broke their promises and, after nearly a year, still has not officially re-integrated the other two-thirds of the resistance fighters into the national army. It was assumed that the government did not want to honour the agreement as it had succeeded in bringing Prince Chantaraingsey and other Isssarak leaders (such as Dap Chhuon, Puth Chhay and Savang Vong) who were true nationalists (sic) to successfully showcase the international community during the Geneva Conference. So the government saw no use and no benefits from these group any longer. On the other hand, at that time, the government did not need a big army and the total number of the national army was only about 20,000. And it was assumed that the top government leaders did not trust the loyalty of this (Chantaraingsey’s) group, if all of its fighters were re-integrated into the national army, as its leader is one of the members of the royal family too. So if all of them were re-integrated the government’s power grip won’t be secure any longer.
Due to his anger with the government’s broken promises, Prince Chantaraingsey conspired to launch a coup d’etat to topple the government in order to establish a republic. At that time there were some imminent high-ranking government such as Yem Sambaur (Minister of Economy), Seng Tip ( Police Commissioner), Poc Sam-An (commander of the armoured-tank unit) as the co-conspirators who had an in-principle verbal support from the American embassy which promised to provide arms. While waiting for the Americans to drop weapons by parachutes, Prince Chantaraingsey assigned Ny Vanthy to construct a secret airstrip and ammunitions warehouse at A-ngea Sess near Phnom Preah deep in the jungle of Chbar Morn district in northern Kampong Speu which was Prince Chantaraingsey’s old base where they had hidden their weapons there before re-integration. The coup plot was discovered because one of his secretaries named Houl Saraen, who was in charge of the secret documents, informed the government because he was upset with Prince Chantaraingsey who had slapped his face due to minor mistakes. To take a revenge he informed King Sihanouk who successfully thwarted and destroyed the plan before it was hatched. Also the coup plot could not be launched because the promised American weapons had not yet arrived.
First Sihanouk ordered Chantaraingsey’s troops out of their barracks and sent Prince Chantaraingsey on a mission to France and at the same time he ordered the detention of his two military officers namely Him Khan and Chan Tor Tress. Before he departed to France, Prince Chantaraingsey found out that his coup plot had been uncovered so he transferred a commanding role of his battalion to Sok Seng Roeung Moni and told him to fight back and not to surrender if the government troops come to arrest them. However, the troops did not follow his order because the government had already arrested their two commanding officers and ordered their troops to surrender. So the coup plot failed and all the commanding officers and their soldiers were all arrested, including the troops of Savang Vong as well.
Those who were not involved such as Savang Vong, Chan Tor Tress and many others were exonerated, presumably due to the court’s lack of evidence to back up the government’s conspiracy theory. Prince Chantaraingsey escaped serious punishment and only served a very short sentence and was later exonerated. He was stripped of military rank, his battalion disbanded and his royal title was also stripped and he lived as a commoner thereafter.
After the coup d’etat in 1970, Lon Nol has rejuvenated Prince Chantaraingsey’s military career. The Prince was appointed a commander of Division 13, with each soldier bearing a blue handkerchief hanging from their necks a symbols. On the shoulders of their military shirts they were decorated with a tiger’s head with its mouth open as a representation of Prince Chantaraingsey’s birth year who was born on the Year of the Tiger. Prince Chantaraingsey was killed by the Khmer Rouge troops at the beginning of May 1975 when his troops attempted to fight their ways out of their besieged barracks at Treng Troyeung which was located near the bent road at the entrance to the former Kirirom town, along National Route number four, with the aim of escaping to Thailand.//The End//. To return to part one click here.
1. After A Biography of Prince Norodom Chantaraingsey, Khmerization will post A Biography of Prince Sisowath Youtevong in this site very soon.
2. A Biography of Prince Norodom Yukanthor.

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