Lon Rith, son of Marshal Lon Nol, yesterday said his father did not commit a coup d’état in 1970 that resulted in the removal of Prince Norodom Sihanouk as head of state.
During Prince Sihanouk’s trip to Moscow in March 1970, the National Assembly voted to remove him from power, forcing the Prince to form a government in exile in Beijing. Marshal Nol then took over until he himself was deposed by the Khmer Rouge in 1975.
The takeover has been labelled as a coup backed by the United States by many critics.
Speaking to Khmer Times during a Cross-Talk discussion yesterday titled “Was March 18th, 1970 a coup?”, Mr Rith said he is proud of his father.
“My father was not a traitor – I’m not saying he was a hero,” he said, adding that his father was an “honest man” who wanted the best for the nation at the time of his rule.
Mr Rith, president of the Khmer Republican Party, said that calling for the peaceful removal of Prince Sihanouk from power was done by the National Assembly.
“It was not his decision, it was the decision of the National Assembly and the Cambodian people,” he said. “They were no longer confident in Prince Sihanouk.”
Mr Rith added that his father, along with Prince Sisowath Sirik Matak, and other politicians supported the removal of Prince Sihanouk because North Vietnamese soldiers were allowed to cross into Cambodian territory during the Vietnam War, noting that up to 80,000 Viet Cong forces were also given the permission.
He said that the public should not blame his father’s government and call the overthrow of the prince a prelude to the Khmer Rouge genocide.
“The Khmer Rouge movement was created long before the establishment of the Khmer Republic, but they were not strong enough at the time,” Mr Rith said. “If Prince Sihanouk didn’t encourage people to fight [the new government], the Khmer Rouge would not have gotten stronger. The people loved Prince Sihanouk. He was a powerful figure among the people.”
When asked about his father’s legacy, he said that he is proud because his father wanted the best for the country.
“What he did was not because of his own interests, but it was the will of the Cambodian people,” Mr Rith said.
CPP spokesman Sok Eysan said Marshal Nol’s takeover resulted in the rise of the Khmer Rouge, which was supported by the US government.
“History is already recorded. If there was no support from the US government, there would be no coup,” Mr Eysan said. “It’s not only me, most Cambodians know this, especially victims of the US’ nearly three million bombs.”
Political analyst Lao Mong Hay yesterday said the ousting of Prince Sihanouk in the 1970s was not a coup d’état.
“Legally or constitutionally speaking, the claim to the contrary was to demolish the legitimacy of the Lon Nol government,” Mr Mong Hay said.