Hours before Pol Pot died, a top Khmer Rouge commander contacted the government trying to make a deal to hand over the man accused of crimes against humanity, senior military officials confirmed Thursday.
Reports, however, diverged on whether a deal was made.
Chea Saran, a two-star general in charge of operations for RCAF general staff, said Khmer Rouge military commander Khem Nuon telephoned Defense co-Minister Tea Banh on Wednesday evening with a promise to hand Pol Pot over to the Cambodian government.
Khem Nuon told Tea Banh he was ready to hand over all the hard-liners’ remaining military hardware, arrest Pol Pot for the government, and defect with the remaining hard-line Khmer Rouge soldiers, Chea Saran said.
Before he learned of reports of Pol Pot’s death, Tea Banh planned to fly to Bangkok to meet Chettha Thanajaro, commander-in-chief of the Royal Thai Army, said a military analyst who spoke on condition of anonymity. The pair were scheduled to pick up Pol Pot today in Sar Prey village, 15 km north of the Thai-Cambodian border in Thailand. pair were scheduled to pick up Pol Pot today in Sar Prey village, 15 km north of the Thai side of the Cambodian border.
Pol Pot would then be taken to Phnom Penh, the analyst said.
A Thai Embassy official in Phnom Penh said that while communication exists between Tea Banh and Chettha Thanajaro, he could not confirm the two had planned to meet.
Chea Saran said if Khem Nuon could detain Pol Pot, it proved that Pol Pot had not slipped into Thailand.
“If this man promised to arrest Pol Pot for the government, this means Pol Pot is still in Cambodia,” Chea Saran said.
RCAF believes that several hundred guerrillas loyal to rebel Chief of Staff Ta Mok are still fighting government forces.
Tea Banh denied knowledge Thursday of the phone call, saying that many Khmer Rouge soldiers who wanted to defect had contacted him.
However, Preap Tann, a one-star general in charge of psychological operations for the RCAF general staff, said the defense co-minister had spoken with Khem Nuon on Thursday. But he said the plan died because the government would not accept conditions on the defection and the hand-over.
On the telephone, Tea Banh refused to negotiate Pol Pot’s handover and the defection of the remaining hard-liners into the government army, Preap Tann said. Khem Nuon had asked that the Phnom Penh government be dissolved in exchange for Pol Pot, Preap Tann claimed.
A Deutsche Presse-Agentur dispatch from Surin province in Thailand earlier this week quoted Khem Nuon as demanding Second Prime Minister Hun Sen stand trial with Pol Pot.
“If somebody wants to take Pol Pot, they need to take Hun Sen as well, since he has committed the same crimes,” Khem Nuon told DPA. “And if they won’t take Hun Sen, then we will accept money as a replacement for taking him.”
And a Dow Jones News Service dispatch reported Khem Nuon as saying that handing over Pol Pot was the key to ending Cambodia’s 30-year civil war.
“I need nothing. I need to end the war, to get rid of Pol Pot from the movement in order to end the war,” he told Dow Jones.
Press reports in the last few days have cited Khmer Rouge sources as saying they wanted to hand over Pol Pot.
According to the Dow Jones report, the rebels asked Far Eastern Economic Review correspondent Nate Thayer whom to contact about handing Pol Pot over. The magazine reported rebel General Nuon Nou as saying Pol Pot had accepted his movement’s decision to turn him over to a tribunal.
“I will go anywhere, but I will not go to Phnom Penh to work with the Vietnamese,” Nuon Nou cited Pol Pot.
(Additional reporting by Kay Kimsong)