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Becker, defence spar on Vietnam

Geopolitics, including the motives behind Vietnam’s toppling of Democratic Kampuchea, featured prominently at the Khmer Rouge tribunal yesterday as veteran journalist and author Elizabeth Becker resumed her testimony.

A former Washington Post and New York Times reporter, Becker appeared for a second day as an expert witness in Case 002/02 against former Khmer Rouge leaders Khieu Samphan and Nuon Chea.

Having spent part of Monday recounting her famous interview with “brother number one” Pol Pot, Becker was in the hot seat yesterday, clashing with Chea’s defence lawyer Victor Koppe, who pushed her on the geopolitics surrounding the regime.

Referencing supporting material from US State Department analyst Douglas Pike, as well as a Soviet ambassador to North Vietnam, a Chinese general and Cambodia’s King Norodom Sihanouk, Koppe suggested that Vietnam’s invasion of Cambodia in 1978 was driven by ambitions to create a communist “Indochina Federation”.

However, noting that Pike was an architect of the “domino theory”, which predicted Vietnam would invade non-communist countries, Becker disagreed.

“I do not know anyone who believes [the invasion] was anything but a Vietnamese response to a border war with Cambodia,” she said, alluding to cross-border attacks on Cambodia’s eastern neighbour.

Becker also disagreed with a statement by Pike – read by Koppe – which argued that the Khmer Rouge’s war against Vietnam at the border was logical.

She said the Pol Pot interview, in which he spoke of being supported by NATO, proved his irrationality.

The pair also sparred over killings within the Khmer Rouge – which Koppe suggested were the result of a rebellion by a faction.

“It was a purge, not a split,” Becker retorted. “One side had all the power and did all the killing, and they went systemically through the different regions.”

Koppe challenged Becker on why her account of visiting Cambodia under the Khmer Rouge differed significantly from her travel companion, fellow reporter Richard Dudman, who observed that some living conditions had improved.

“He did not know Cambodia before and I did,” she said.

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