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Logo of Phnom Penh Post newspaper Phnom Penh Post - Defection of KR politicos isolates Mok

Defection of KR politicos isolates Mok

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THE GOOD ëOL DAYS

Newly defected Khmer Rouge political cadre In Sopheap and Chan Youran

(second and third from left) sit alongside rebel chieftans Khieu Samphan and

Nuon Chea during a Jan 4 interview in Anlong Veng.

THE government says it is just a matter of time before Khmer Rouge leaders Ta Mok

and Nuon Chea are captured and tried.

Inside sources say that no-one is giving up hope that Khieu Samphan - long the "acceptable"

face of the hardline rebels - will be convinced to defect out of the jungle, or from

Thailand as is more likely.

However, there is growing speculation that the motivation for any KR trial is more

that it will be a major distraction from the controversial national election.

These thoughts may only intensify following the abrupt defection, just four weeks

before polling day, of five of the most important Khmer Rouge intelligensia on June

11, leaving Mok, Chea and Samphan almost on their own.

The timing of Chan Youran, Mak Ben, Thiounn Thioeunn, In Sopheap and Kor Bun Heng's

defection will provide more anecdotal evidence for those who say that Second Prime

Minister Hun Sen intends to give the international community the heads they have

been demanding in exchange for what many say will be flawed polls.

The five defectors, interviewed by the Post in Pailin, have an intimate knowledge

of the KR structure.

Sopheap said they would be prepared to give evidence at a trial of the three rebel

leaders Mok, Chea and Samphan now that they have returned to the mainstream.

"We are reintergrated into the national community and what the national community

asks for we should follow," he said.

Ros Sna, a spokesman for RCAF deputy chief of staff Meas Sophea, said that Ta Mok

is now surrounding himself with relatives because the defections have left him mistrustful

of his comrades.

Sna said the government was confident it would soon have Mok, Chea and Samphan in

custody even if they fled to another country.

He said that with no support, the three may just give up in Cambodia, but more likely

they will stay out of the country until their money runs out.

Once that happens, their hosts would likely abandon them, said Sna, who was pointedly

careful not to mention Thailand. "They are not in Cambodian territory. They

are living in a safe house outside the country."

"Those people are hiding them because they think they will make money from them.

But they [the hosts] will tell the international court to take them when they no

longer profit from them," Sna said.

Meas Sophea said that the government now just wants to see Mok, Chea, and Samphan

stand trial.

"The government has no plans to negotiate with them. There is no point trying

to breed from a dry fish," he said.

Sophea denied reports that he had met with the remaining few Khmer Rouge military

leaders to discuss their surrender. He said there was nothing to discuss.

"The government will open the door for the people who want reconciliation. It

is not for the people who want to join with the government to set the conditions

of their return," Sophea said.

Hun Sen is the driving force behind the hugely successful isolation of the Khmer

Rouge leadership - though his critics paint a cynical picture of his motivations.

London-based academic Steve Heder told a US Congressional hearing recently that Hun

Sen was unlikely to hand over to a tribunal any Khmer Rouge cadre - other than those

who now oppose him.

"It is obvious... that Hun Sen is trying to maneuver the world into accepting

a deal whereby he is allowed to be legitimized through phony elections, after which

he will further legitimize himself by assisting in the trial of those senior Khmer

Rouge who are still fighting against him [Nuon Chea, Ta Mok and Khieu Samphan], while

protecting those he has co-opted [Ieng Sary and Keo Pauk]," Heder said in his

testimony.

Hun Sen, say analysts, is ahead of the United States' and the United Nations' plans

to put former Khmer Rouge leaders on trial.

They say it is a lead he must maintain if he is to retain control of the judicial

process and prevent former Khmer Rouge leaders who are now political allies from

also being called to account.

The June 11 defection of the five top intellectuals marks the virtual completion

of the government campaign to entice away Mok's support, both military and political.

A human rights worker said that the United States had started to lose interest in

the idea of putting the KR leaders on trial. This may leave Hun Sen in a good position

to mount a Cambodian trial.

However, the United Nations is currently looking at setting up the International

Criminal Court (ICC) to try cases such as those of the KR leaders.

But that proposal is still being formulated and experts say it is still about five

years away from being formed. It is unlikely that the court will be able to try people

for past crimes in any event.

That leaves the international community with the option of setting up an ad hoc court

for a KR trial, assuming it's given someone the government feels comfortable with

having tried.

Heder believes Hun Sen is now trying to play off countries and groups against each

other in an effort to sabotage other trial proposals.

"It is likely that he will also try to subvert the US, UN and other proposals

for ways and means of bringing surviving Khmer Rouge to justice for genocide,"

he said.

"He will be in a good position to form international alliances against any kind

of accountability for Khmer Rouge crimes that are contrary to his domestic political

interests."

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