Defectors Indicate Ta Mok May Have Caused Own Ruin

preah vihear temple, Preah Vihear – As the military plots to ensnare him and rank-and-file defections further reduce his stra­tegic options, Ta Mok may be the source of his own undoing.

Interviews this week with de­fecting soldiers and commanders here and in Siem Reap have re­vealed an acute distaste for the rebel chief of staff’s harsh policies and oppressive measures.

“I am now waiting for Ta Mok to face me in battle,” said Chea Rhath, 18, a soldier in the forces east of Anlong Veng, the rebels’ military headquarters for the last eight years. “If I see him, I will not only cut off his remaining leg, I will cut off his two arms.”

Chea Rhath is one of at least 400 soldiers who defected on Sunday at the historic mountain top Preah Vihear temple, a Khmer Rouge outpost for more than five years now in government hands.

Ta Mok, he seethed, does not take care of the soldiers who risk their lives for the rebel movement and for Ta Mok’s personal gains. Supplies were never forthcoming while the guerrilla troops were in the field, he said.

Sambath, 48, who originally picked up a gun to resist the republican Lon Nol regime in the early 1970s and defected at Preah Vihear temple Sunday, explained that a Khmer Rouge soldier under Ta Mok who refused to continue fighting would be punished—or killed.

“I’ve had enough fighting,” he said, sitting on one of the temple ledges with his legs dangling over freely. “It is time for me to give up being a soldier. But Ta Mok does not allow his soldiers to stop fight­ing. He is a dictator.”

Ngeth Thun, in his 30s, who identified himself as commander of Khmer Rouge division 612, said he originally met Ta Mok in 1980 and feared the rebel chief of staff’s reputation for instilling discipline in his soldiers.

When Ta Mok last year rose up against Pol Pot and seized power over the guerrilla forces, the rank-and-file Khmer Rouge and their families agreed with Ta Mok, he said.

Ta Mok told them that he would change the rebels’ infrastructure maintained by Pol Pot to give the soldiers better living conditions and more freedom.

“But as far as I can see, Ta Mok still uses the same policies as Pol Pot,” Ngeth Thun said. “Nothing has changed.”

That is why rebellion happened, he said. More than 2,000 Khmer Rouge guerrillas have peacefully defected to the government in the last 10 days, RCAF generals claim.

Government mil­itary commanders say they ex­pect more de­fections in the next week.

Although the numbers of de­fectors may be fewer than the government claims, it is undeniable that the balance of territorial control in the far north has chang­ed—at least for now.

Like Pol Pot, Ta Mok did not allow soldiers to see their families when they wanted. He ordered all communication cut off between soldiers who were sent to the front line and their families, Ngeth Thun re­vealed.

Sometimes, soldiers did not see their families for up to a year.

“I was sick of Ta Mok’s politics because I wanted real democracy and an end to war,” said Im Heung, who identified himself as the commander of all hard-line military forces east of Anlong Veng. “I thought Ta Mok would be different than Pol Pot, but he is not.”

Im Heung said because of the Khmer Rouge leaders’ demands on soldiers, he has not lived regularly with his family since 1979 when the Vietnamese army ousted the Khmer Rouge from pow­er. Since he defected, he has seen them every day in Preah Malai village in Anlong Veng.

In addition, Ta Mok did not al­low any of his commanders to conduct cross-border business with Thailand, only himself, Ngeth Thun complained.

The timber trade with Thailand has helped support the rebels’ resistance against the government for more than 20 years.

Ta Mok’s Thai bank accounts have become fat from sending logs over the border to Thai saw mills and cultivating his interests in oil and gas companies in Thai­land, defecting commanders and RCAF officials said.

Keo Pourk, a member of the Democratic Kampuchea Stand­ing Committee for 18 years and the highest-ranking rebel to de­fect this week, said Ta Mok has at least $15 million stashed in such accounts.

The rebel chief of staff has a house in Si Saket, Thailand, opposite Preah Vihear temple, and nu­merous relatives in Thailand overseeing his business interests, Keo Pourk, 68, told reporters at a hotel he stayed at in Siem Reap town this week.

“Ta Mok has countless am­ounts of money,” said General Preap Tann, the RCAF General Staff director of propaganda who helped engineer the defections in the Khmer Rouge. “If he wins the war, he be­comes a king. If he loses, he be­comes a millionaire.”

Ta Mok is hunkered down in a zone of the Dangrek Mountains called “200 mountains,” about 15 km north of Anlong Veng village and 2 km from Thailand, RCAF commanders say.

Thailand has sealed the border against Ta Mok. He is accompanied by at least 200 soldiers and their families who are still loyal to him, RCAF commanders say. Thai military officials have said his forces number many more.

But regardless of whether the military will be able to dislodge “The Butcher” from the mountains, RCAF officials and defecting rebel commanders were un­a­nimous about Ta Mok’s will.

“Ta Mok will not surrender. He will fight until the end of his life,” Keo Pourk said.

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