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
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
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
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 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."