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Logo of Phnom Penh Post newspaper Phnom Penh Post - For the CPP, the loss of Brother Demon No. 1

For the CPP, the loss of Brother Demon No. 1

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FIRM GRIP

CPP is fast losing its historic enemy, the Khmer Rouge

WITH the death of Pol Pot and what may be the end of the hardline Khmer Rouge

as a substantial destabilizing force, Cambodia's political landscape is set to be

radically altered.

While many observers say credit should be given to those who have all but snuffed

out the KR without the recent need for major fighting, they warn it could be a pyrrhic

victory for the Cambodian People's Party.

A post-KR world could pose the greatest challenge yet to the CPP's cohesiveness,

which has itself largely been founded on fervent anti-Khmer Rouge sentiment - ironically

similar in many respects to the anti-Vietnamese propaganda the Khmer Rouge has directed

at the CPP.

"The end of the Khmer Rouge could shake Cambodia from its path," one CPP

source said. "[The CPP and the Khmer Rouge] always refer to enemies to justify

their own existence. It is a negative path."

The Vietnamese-backed government that would become later the PRK/SOC had long engaged

with the Khmer Rouge in an act of what he called "mutual justification".

"This country is run by the CPP for the moment, like it or not. [But] the Khmer

Rouge is a dying justification... One day, sooner or later, the party must prepare

for the future if they want to survive. Everybody should look into their own identity

and not just use a threat to justify their own existence."

He noted real challenges facing the nation - poverty, development, human rights and

national reconciliation - remain unresolved as powerful political and military figures

worry about status symbols like their golf game and what jewelry they can give to

their wives.

Others suggested that the end of the Khmer Rouge threat could undermine the CPP,

as anti-KR sentiment has long bound together a powerful clique of political, military

and business figures, despite their differing views and competing interests.

"Depending on how dead the Khmer Rouge is and how soon it happens, there will

be inevitable splits in the CPP," said one longtime Western political observer,

who preferred anonymity.

"For the first time since 1979 they may have to find an identity that is more

than just being against something. That has been a unifying factor that separated

them from all those 'bad' people allied with the KR. It has allowed them not to think

about their responsibilities in running the country. Basically all they had to do

was keep the Khmer Rouge from coming back to power," he said.

However, Khieu Kanharith, a CPP party spokesman and also Secretary of State for Information,

asserted that the party long ago stopped being obsessed with the Khmer Rouge.

He acknowledged that the end of the KR's "capacity to destabilize the nation"

will facilitate the gov-ernment's development efforts.

"CPP doesn't just mean 'anti-Khmer Rouge'. Since 1986 the main [party] issue

has been the economy," Kanharith said.

One CPP member spoke of the psychological power that Pol Pot had in his own life

- he was one of many in the party who said it was "impossible to believe Pol

Pot is dead" without seeing the body - as many of the most crucial decisions

of his life were made as a reaction to the time of the killing fields.

"When I came of age, it was already war... I couldn't enjoy a normal youth.

I had no youth. I was committed to struggling against the ideology of the Khmer Rouge.

My whole life was influenced by this decision in 1975. It is the same for the whole

country. Yes, it is just one man, but he killed millions, and the man is gone.

"It could be the end of the Khmer Rouge ideology; the end of an era. It is important

for our psyche as a nation as we try to build peace and development."

Such comments concur with the insistence that the historic exploitation of the intense

hatred of the Khmer Rouge, dating back to the arrival of the Vietnamese-backed "liberators"

in 1979, continues within the CPP to this day.

"Top members of the CPP and their followers say Pol Pot is to blame for everything.

They will sometimes repeat that like a puppet, whether or not they know what he has

done. [But now] there is no more enemy for the CPP," said Lao Mong Hay, the

head the Khmer Institute for Democracy.

"Over the last several years, that propaganda has lost its effectiveness and

worn out. You cannot keep telling people and convince them that every problem is

Khmer Rouge. I think people have been questioning that for a long time."

Opposition political leader Sam Rainsy said Pol Pot had long been the "scapegoat"

for the nation's ills and that a broad Khmer Rouge brush has been used to tar virtually

all political opposition. Second Prime Minister Hun Sen, the CPP vice president,

has in the past suggested that Rainsy sheltered thousands of Khmer Rouge members

in what is now the Sam Rainsy Party.

"The positive impact of Pol Pot's death will be that it clarifies Cambodian

moral politics," Rainsy said. "CPP propaganda divides politics into two

sides. Those who support Hun Sen and those who are KR... Now that there is no Pol

Pot it will be clearer to the Cambodian people. [They] will have to choose between

Hun Sen - the former Khmer Rouge installed by the Vietnamese - or the democratic

opposition."

Some suggested that the lack of emphasis given to Pol Pot's death in the local press

had to do with the desire to pass on the 'bogeyman' moniker to the current hardline

leader Ta Mok, to allow the government to garner continued political mileage from

the Khmer Rouge threat.

"I am quite sure they want the [Khmer Rouge] bogeyman alive at least until elections,"

the Western observer said.

Others agree, noting that while Ieng Sary, Pol Pot's former brother in-law and DK

Foreign Minister, has become a strategic ally of Hun Sen since being pardoned in

1996, Ta Mok and the other hardline Khmer Rouge leaders such as nominal leader Khieu

Samphan and political strategist Nuon Chea are the new demons.

"Ta Mok has been drummed up as the replacement monster," said Cambodian

author and intellectual Bit Seanglim. "Now his name is used to represent the

legacy of the old Khmer Rouge. I think it held more weight when it was Brother Number

One - this one is [only] number six or seven. But a replacement has been found."

The 'we save you from the Khmer Rouge' strategy, so effective in the past, may be

unlikely to change. "Ta Mok, Nuon Chea, Khieu Samphan; they look at it as 'the

whole gang is still there minus Number One'."

But he and other analysts say that such a campaign would likely be of limited success

as the KR has lost much steam and Pol Pot's legend was rooted mostly in the horrific

killing fields rule of the country.

CPP rank-and-file, long indoctrinated in anti-KR propaganda - easy and understandable

after their experiences under Pot - still maintain that the Khmer Rouge threat endures.

"The threat, if the KR continues to exist, is still there, with or without Pol

Pot. He did not lead the Khmer Rouge alone. There is still a movement and other leaders.

Until now, we have done a great deal. We have liberated Anlong Veng, but the area

around the border is not completely liberated. The Khmer Rouge continue to threaten

the Cambodian people," said one.

"Speaking as a common citizen, it is not just about the party. [Hatred of the

Khmer Rouge] glues together the whole nation. Those of us who never left, we have

suffered greatly. We know the bitter taste.

"People from abroad have tried to manipulate it for their own political gains.

I survived this regime, I never left the country. For us, it would be good to get

rid of them once and for all."

Ironically, some suggested that former Khmer Rouge leaders who have already joined

or aligned themselves with the government are the ones who inspire the greatest fear

in the population and represent the greatest future threat with their culture of

violence, lack of remorse and unwillingness to acknowledge any responsibility for

the past.

"The fear of the Khmer Rouge brutality very much remains in people's minds and

hearts. In Pailin, even thieves are afraid of the Khmer Rouge. They don't have prisons,

you know," Lao Mong Hay said. Indeed, in Battambang it is commonly maintained

that robbers don't live long in Pailin once caught.

Rainsy said that while Pol Pot may be gone, his spirit lives on in his former colleagues.

"Pol Pot alone cannot kill two million people. Maybe he never killed anyone

with his own hands. Pol Pot needed a whole system, an apparatus. Where is this system?

Where are these people?... He is alive in Ieng Sary. Ieng Sary is with Hun Sen. And

they call each other 'brother'."

Rainsy warned that such men may be more damaging after integrating than they ever

could have been in resistance.

"I think the Khmer Rouge are more dangerous in the government than in the jungle.

They will come into the cities and be given high positions."

He also said that Pol Pot's spirit endures in CPP political leaders, such as former

cadre Hun Sen, National Assembly President Chea Sim and Interior Minister Sar Kheng.

"There is a lot of hypocrisy following the death of Pol Pot. Many people think

it is the end of the Cambodian conflict... I do not share this [sentiment]."

One CPP source, while not claiming that the end of the Khmer Rouge means peace has

arrived, emphasized that there exists a chance to move on.

"Now is a great opportunity to make Pol Pot really die, after 20 years. Nobody

should continue to use the existence of the Khmer Rouge to justify their own existence

by pointing the finger at the bad man... Let us accept, once and for all, that Pol

Pot and the huge and ugly things he represents, are dead."

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