A top army general walked out of secret talks with the Khmer Rouge last Friday, according to a Radio Free Asia interview with a Khmer Rouge Cabinet member.
Meas Sophea, deputy chief of RCAF general staff, stood up and left the room following repeated suggestions by Khmer Rouge Cabinet member Tep Khunnal that a peace agreement should be struck by both sides, the hard-liner claimed in an interview broadcast Tuesday.
The talks took place Friday in the northern, remote province of Preah Vihear near the Thai border with other military officials including co-Minister of Defense Tea Banh, Tep Khunnal told Pin Samkhon, a journalist with connections to the opposition.
“Regrettably, when I raised a number of points in the spirit of national reconciliation, Meas Sophea…stood up and walked out to end the talks,” Tep Khunnal said.
He did not elaborate on what kind of agreement he asked for from the government, except that it was in the interests of “solving political problems, military problems and economic problems.”
“What they demanded us to do is ask us to surrender, but I cannot,” Tep Khunnal said.
In 1996, clandestine Khmer Rouge radio introduced Tep Khunnal as the rebel minister of territorial integrity. That announcement followed a Cabinet shuffle after mass hard-line defections in western Cambodia.
Meas Sophea could not be reached for comment Tuesday. During the interview with Radio Free Asia, Tep Khunnal insisted that he is a member of the National Solidarity Party, which follows Khieu Samphan, the hard-liners’ long-time nominal leader.
One military analyst in Phnom Penh said prominent Khmer Rouge figures, such as Khieu Samphan and Tep Khunnal, may be waiting to see what happens to the five rebel Cabinet members who defected in Pailin last week.
“The others haven’t come forward because they know they will be subject to criminal charges and the other ones who walked out of the jungle took a chance,” the analyst said. While the deal between the two sides is unclear, the government appears content to let the men defect to Pailin authorities.
Ko Chean, commander of Military Region 5, said Monday that the men defected in Pailin because they are close to the leadership there and trust them.
The Thai Deputy Foreign Minister Kobsak Chutikul, citing Cambodian military reports, said Monday that remaining Khmer Rouge leaders Ta Mok, Nuon Chea and Khieu Samphan are in Preah Vihear and Pailin. It was not clear who was where, he said.
(Additional reporting by Agence France-Presse and Marc Levy)