Together, the married couple fought for the Khmer Rouge. It consumed the woman’s life for 22 years, and yet today she has little to show for it other than memories of fierce battles she says she would rather forget.
“My husband and I were soldiers and attacked many battlefields at Battambang and Banteay Meanchey provinces,” Sopheap, who asked that her real name not be used, said by phone from Pailin.
“It is enough that we have had 22 years of civil war. We were just serving the high leaders’ interests. Today, the leaders have cars and big houses and villas while, as cadres, we have only a small house.”
As hundreds of her former KR comrades gathered in Phnom Malai Wednesday to celebrate the fifth anniversary of their defection to the government—an event many credit for bringing peace to Cambodia—the views of Sopheap and others provide one answer to those who wonder if former Khmer Rouge soldiers would rise again to defend their leaders against a UN-assisted tribunal for war crimes. Sopheap’s story serves as a powerful argument that they would not.
It seems more likely the soldiers who once served the Khmer Rouge regime will respond to the tribunal’s indictments only with silence.
“If I am asked to run to the jungle [to fight] because of leaders who are tried, I will run instead to live inside the province,” Sopheap said.
The 1996 defection was the end of a life of war for Sopheap and her husband. Since that day, she said, “It’s like I am born again and I have a new life.”
Still, questions remain about the defecting soldiers who followed Ieng Sary to the government side. Would they fight again if Ieng Sary was indicted by a UN-assisted tribunal?
Not Seng Thoeun. A former rank-and-file soldier for the Khmer Rouge who lives today in Pailin, Seng Thoeun said he no longer cares about Brother No 3.
“I do not care who will be tried, even Ieng Sary. I do not run into the jungle for this reason. I just want to feed my children and my wife is all. Those leaders do not give me any money,” he said.
That is not a unanimous view. Agence-France Presse quoted former Division 450 commander Chhim Bunny as saying that trying Ieng Sary would be hypocritical in light of King Norodom Sihanouk’s decision to give Ieng Sary amnesty for the conviction and death sentence he received in absentia at a 1979 trial.
“I do not think Ieng Sary should be brought to trial because the King has already given him an amnesty. If they prosecute Ieng Sary, then they are violating the king’s trust,” AFP quoted Chhim Bunny as saying Wednesday.
Ieng Sary, 71, who has denied involvement in the Khmer Rouge decisions that led to the deaths of more than 1 million Cambodians, sent a speech to Malai to be read, but did not attend the ceremony.
“Cambodia desperately needs peace, political stability, and security in order to realize development without interruption in all fields,” The Associated Press quoted from the speech.
One news service quoted officials at the ceremony as saying Ieng Sary was in Thailand for a medical check-up. A family member said Wednesday the former foreign minister was sleeping at his home in Phnom Penh.