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Logo of Phnom Penh Post newspaper Phnom Penh Post - The answer is blowing in the wind

The answer is blowing in the wind

THERE could be few better dinner companions than the latest five defectors to the

government.

Chan Youran, Mak Ben, Thiounn Thieounn, In Sopheap and Kor Bun Heng were all key

intellectuals and leaders in the Khmer Rouge.

They are well-educated, articulate, well-read and considerate, but as for them running

a country? Up to 2 million dead Cambodians are testimony to the lunacy of that.

It is both disarming and tragic that those involved in some of the Cambodia's darkest

moments should be such extraordinary people. It seems shameful though that they now

are painting a revisionist picture of their world.

Chan Youran - a law graduate, the holder of a PhD and a former deputy prime minister

in the Democratic Kampuchea regime - is certainly no intellectual light-weight.

He sits down on a couch, nice and close, and starts with a few pleasantries. Then,

in an almost intimate way, explains the group has defected because they want to see

"peace and national reconciliation in Cambodia".

There are murmurs of approval and nods all round as the group echoes the feeling

of peace and harmony that threatens to end with a quick chorus of Bob Dylan's Blowing

In The Wind.

Once the questions turn to more substantive matters their charm functions perfectly

but their memories don't.

No one knew where Ta Mok or Nuon Chea were. In fact no one could quite remember when

or where they last saw the two Khmer Rouge chieftans.

A question to Youran about KR finances is quickly diverted. "I don't know.

Ask the book keeper," he says with a laugh and points at Mak Ben.

Mak Ben, who holds a doctorate in economics from Paris and is a former KR finance

minister, suddenly becomes alive like a clock-work soldier. With his arms waving

in the air he says in panic: "I don't know, I don't know." If Youran had

a smirk at Ben's discomfort, it was a secret one.

But all this had about as much ring of truth as Youran's own answer to a question

about how they felt moving from a strong Maoist peasant farmer philosophy to something

a bit more capitalistic. "We never shared those views, never, never. Cambodia

is composed of many people, not just farmers."

One can only assume that these men have spent up to 30 years trying to change things

from the inside or, in the words of one human rights worker, "They are the world's

best liars."

Attempts to clarify any issue current or historical were met with the increasingly

aggravating mantra: "We want to see peace in Cambodia and national reconciliation."

Thiounn Thoeunn, a French-trained medical doctor, is at least frank about what he

now wants from life. "I am old, I want to take a rest," he says.

"If my health is OK I will help the young generation by giving my experience."

Then he drifted into the group's current line of "what I want is peace. If everybody

respects human rights, it is best."

But like his colleagues any question that threatens to be controversial is treated

like a live snake. "I am a medical doctor, that is all - I know nothing, I know

nothing.

"I know only medicine, I do not know about politics."

In Sopheap, a graduate from the top engineering school in Paris - and a happy,

genial man - is initially quite comfortable explaining how much the group disliked

Ta Mok, and even that they would give evidence against him if a tribunal was ever

conviened for the Khmer Rouge's top leadership.

But hopes that Sopheap is the gold mine of information soon evaporate as the obligatory

"all we want is peace and national reconciliation" line comes out.

Kor Bun Heng, easily the friendliest of this affable group, did give the most plausible

reason of why the five had defected from the dying guerrilla group and come to Pailin.

"Well, we know everybody here already," he said, not unreasonably.

Instead of being interviewed, Bun Heng was much more interested in discussing the

1981 South African rugby tour of New Zealand and the New Zealand nuclear free policy,

once he found out there was a New Zealander present.

"I have read several books about your country. There is quite a large Cambodian

community there. What businesses are they in, are they farmers?"

Bun Heng knew all about an apartheid rugby team touring New Zealand 17 years ago

that caused social upheaval in that country.

"But it wasn't too bad, was it?" he ventured. "Not as bad as the social

problems Cambodia has had?"

He was such a convivial conversationalist that one took some time to gag out a reply.

No, the social upheaval wasn't as bad as in Cambodia.

Youran sent his "warmest regards" to Far Eastern Economic Review and former

Post journalist Nate Thayer. There are questions about other journalists and Post

staff: Who was now married? Who worked where?

They also ask fondly after former Tourism Minister Veng Sereyvuth and his family

who live in New Zealand.

There was plenty of laughter and oohs and ahhs at the answers until it was finally

time to go, another ten minutes of hand shakes and thank yous and just the odd reminder

about peace and national reconciliation.

After that they were gone, the only lingering thought was that if they had been restauranteurs

instead of Maoist rebels, dining out in Cambodia would be a lot more fun and there

would be a lot more customers.

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