Students Talk Trial with Ex-KR Leaders in Pailin

A group of university students canvassing villages to conduct in­terviews about the Khmer Rouge regime and distribute information about the long-awaited tribunal ended up in unlikely con­ver­sations with former Khmer Rouge leaders Khieu Sam­phan and Nuon Chea in their Pailin Mu­ni­ci­pal­ity homes last week.

Graduate student and Docu­mentation Center of Cambo­dia in­tern Huy Vannak organized the group for a planned distribution of the documents in Pailin. And despite their apprehensions at bringing Khmer Rouge tribunal literature to the foremost former rebel stronghold, the group de­cided to seek out the aging communist leaders’ at their homes.

“I thought because of security and cooperation we should not go to the Khmer Rouge stronghold,” Huy Vannak said Thursday. “I told myself we should not fear the Khmer Rouge. During the Khmer Rouge regime they tried to frighten my mother, to frighten everybody…. I have learned a lot. Khmer Rouge are not tigers. They are human beings.”

The group went to Khieu Sam­phan’s house near the eastern side of central Pailin, but were initially rejected despite a polite ‘chum reap suor’ and assurances that they were students, not journalists.

Khieu Samphan, former De­mocratic Kampuchea head of state, eventually acquiesced and asked them to return later in the afternoon.

Next, the students went to find Brother No 2 Nuon Chea, who lives about 300 meters from the Thai border in Brother No 3 Ieng Sary’s son-in-law’s house, surrounded by his children and grandchildren.

“[Nuon Chea’s] wife asked us ‘who are you, and where do you come from?’” Huy Vannak said. “We told her we are students and we want to learn about Pailin. She said, ‘grandfather is sleeping, but it’s ok, you can talk to him.’”

Nuon Chea emphasized religion in their talk, and denied that religion had been suppressed un­der the Khmer Rouge.

He maintained that people were just busy building the country and so could not give alms, so monks were forced to feed themselves.

“I think Mr Nuon Chea is open-minded, but when he answers it’s not so good,” said group member Ean Sopheap. “When I asked him questions, he looked at other people when he answered.”

“I never expected that I could meet a Khmer Rouge leader,” Ean Sopheap added. “I was born in 1980.”

The students returned to Khieu Samphan’s home in the evening.

“I feel that Khieu Samphan is a trustworthy and gentle man. He is an intellectual from what I know,” said another member of the group, 22-year-old student Chheng Koemseng. “My parents used to tell me that Pol Pot’s men were very cruel, but when I met them face-to-face. I felt they are just old men, like my grandfather.”

However, Huy Vannak was less than sympathetic.

“The two guys told us only a small chapter of the history. We need more answers from them. Why did they give people less food? Why did they evacuate people? Why did they kill people? They said they did not know about the killing. How could they not know?”

The students discussed the tribunal very little with the aging Khmer Rouge leaders, but Khieu Samphan didn’t seem worried.

“Khieu Samphan said if they have a tribunal people will not be happy, because he is an honest guy and has devoted everything to the country, and people would not be happy with the court’s de­cision,” Huy Vannak said.

“I almost told him people would [still not be] happy if the court cut him into two million pieces.”

 

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