Their armed struggle failing along with their health, two of the three remaining hard-line Khmer Rouge leaders walked out of the jungle this weekend into the embrace of a Phnom Penh government that has long vowed to arrest them.
Prime Minister Hun Sen on Friday welcomed the defections in Pailin of nominal Khmer Rouge leader Khieu Samphan, 67, and Nuon Chea, 71, saying the reintegration of the pair will be good for Cambodia’s peace and development.
The pair said their only wish was to become “simple people.”
Their conditional surrender, which left only military commander Ta Mok at-large, raised new doubts about efforts to bring to trial the leaders of the brutal Democratic Kampuchea regime of 1975 to 1978. More than a million Cambodians died of execution, starvation and forced labor during the Khmer Rouge’s radical Maoist rule.
Hun Sen on Saturday dodged questions on whether Khieu Samphan, former head of state of Democratic Kampuchea, and Nuon Chea, the regime’s former prime minister and Pol Pot’s long-time deputy, will stand trial for crimes against humanity.
“We should not talk about any court. This is a time when we should talk about reconciliation,” Hun Sen told The Associated Press as he left his niece’s wedding Saturday.
Khieu Samphan and Nuon Chea reportedly had not revealed the location of Ta Mok—a previous condition for defection—but an army commander indicated Sunday that the government was willing to drop the issue.
“We had to do whatever we could to get them to defect from Ta Mok. Then, Mok will be the only person to take all the responsibility and guilt,” RCAF Deputy with Ta Mok for Khmer Rouge crimes. Longtime Khmer Rouge leader Pol Pot died in the jungles of Cambodia earlier this year.
On June 19, Hun Sen said in a pre-election speech that he might consider welcoming Khieu Samphan only if he would handed his two comrades over to the government.
“If Khieu Samphan does not hand over these two remaining Khmer Rouge leaders to the government, Khieu Samphan will not be forgiven,” Hun Sen vowed then. He made no mention of any possibility of Nuon Chea defecting.
Om Yentieng, a longtime political adviser to Hun Sen, denied that the prime minister had changed his stance. He repeated Hun Sen’s promise of welcome in exchange for Ta Mok and hinted that the pair were cooperating in tracking down the elusive one-legged commander
“We need to work to continue our operation to arrest Ta Mok,” Om Yentieng said.
However, Meas Sophea said Khieu Samphan and Nuon Chea had not revealed Ta Mok’s location. Known as “the Butcher” because of his reputation for brutality, Ta Mok is believed to be hiding out somewhere in the jungles along the border. Thai officials on Saturday denied harboring the commander and his remaining 100 or so men.
Just five years ago, the Khmer Rouge remained a feared guerrilla force of at least 10,000 men, holding much of the timber-rich land along the Thai border and active in nearly a third of the country.
Defections and infighting have since crippled the movement.
Ieng Sary’s defection in September 1996 was a huge blow. He brought nearly 5,000 troops with him and deprived the rebels of Pailin’s lucrative gem trade, which for years financed their armed struggle.
As part of the deal, the former rebels were allowed effective autonomy in running Pailin’s lucrative cross-border trade. Ieng Sary was also granted an amnesty for a 1979 death sentence handed down by a “People’s Tribunal” following the Vietnamese invasion that ousted the Khmer Rouge, and given immunity from a 1994 law banning the Khmer Rouge.
Then co-premiers Hun Sen and Prince Norodom Ranariddh argued that the deal was necessary to end the civil war.
Less than two years later, the government negotiated the defection of most of the last major stronghold of Anlong Veng, north of Siem Reap town. The late-March mutiny sent Ta Mok, Nuon Chea and Khieu Samphan fleeing into the jungle, taking a captive Pol Pot with them. Pol Pot, the notorious “Brother Number One,” had been purged in a power struggle with Ta Mok in 1997 and died a captive in the jungle in April.
the cambodia daily
Sam Rainsy Party parliamentarians are urging the US Senate to support a resolution calling for Prime Minister Hun Sen to be investigated for crimes against humanity.
In the petition signed Dec 22, the 15 parliamentarians say a resolution should be supported to “collect all evidence against Mr Hun Sen as a criminal who seriously violated international law on human rights and to support an international tribunal to consider this evidence, which could form the basis for a prosecution.”
A simple resolution expresses an opinion only and is not binding by law. The US House of Representatives passed a similar resolution in October 1998.
Om Yentieng, a Hun Sen adviser and chairman of the government’s human rights committee, said Sunday that Sam Rainsy is acting only in the interest of his party.
“He defames other people in order to serve his ambition,” Om Yentieng said.
The petition singles out alleged criminal acts committed under the K5 plan between mid-1984 and 1988. The project purportedly killed thousands of Cambodians in forced labor camps on sites peppered with land mines. During that period, Hun Sen was a member of the central committee of the communist party and was promoted from minister of Foreign Affairs to Prime Minister.
Rainsy parliamentarians also allege that Hun Sen is responsible for the killings of opposition politicians in 1993, demonstrators in March 1997, commanders and soldiers after the factional fighting in July 1997, and opposition activists in the run-up to this year’s elections. The petition claims Hun Sen ordered the violent crackdown on opposition protesters in September.
“Unless there is justice in human-rights cases happening now, our country will not be able to achieve any real and sustainable development,” the petition states.
Sam Rainsy is scheduled to be interviewed for 30 minutes on CNN today at 9:30 pm.
(Reporting by Kimsan Chantara and Jeff Smith)