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Logo of Phnom Penh Post newspaper Phnom Penh Post - Foot soldiers facing up to uncertain future

Foot soldiers facing up to uncertain future

PHUM SVAY SAR TOCH, Banteay Meanchey - Khuy Lorn has never visited Phnom Penh and

would like to, but worries that there are still Vietnamese in the government there.

The Khmer Rouge regimental commander, whose 300 troops are among the breakaway faction

led by Ieng Sary, takes an unmistakably middle line between the "hardliners"

he left behind and the Royal government.

While pledging his regiment's desire to rejoin the national fold, the 17-year KR

veteran is cautious about what that may mean for he and his soldiers' futures.

"We don't have any clear thoughts about that," he says about what he would

like to do with the rest of his life. "It depends on what the people at the

top decide."

Commander of Regiment 407 of the National Army of Democratic Kampuchea's Division

519, Khuy Lorn is a man who takes orders. He awaits his next ones.

As government negotiations continue with the breakaway leaders, Lorn is not one to

profer bold opinions. Eyeing up the first Westerners he says he can remember ever

seeing, he responds to questions with short, often non-committal answers.

Aged 41, short and stocky, he is dressed in gray pin-striped trousers. He smiles

and apologizes for not wearing a shirt - "It's very hot" - before putting

one on when cameras are produced.

"Life has not changed much, nor has it been any better since we broke away from

the hardliners," he says, sitting on the floor surrounded by villagers and a

few fellow cadre. "But people living in other government areas and nearby villages

have provided us with assistance and supplies."

Another KR cadre interjects: "Before, we were never able to sit in front of

each other like this."

Lorn gently nods his agreement. Motioning at a Royal Cambodian Armed Forces major

seated in front of him, he says: "We used to curse each other through the radio.

"I never would have thought we would have the chance to sit down and talk like

this six months ago. We never wanted to see our brothers from RCAF then."

And now? "We see that the war has been going on too long and no progress has

been brought about by this war, only poverty and misery.

"We began discussing the possibility of breaking away after the Khmer Rouge

announcement [condemning Ieng Sary]...we saw the necessity for national reconciliation."

After a meeting of his regiment and another of all of Division 519 - several commanders

of which have links with Funcinpec military personnel - most of the division decided

to break away.

"I have not arranged any celebration," he says of his regiment's move to

split from the KR old guard. "I am still busy trying to get more friends out

of the jungle."

He doesn't have to look far. Phum Svay Sar Toch - more than 50km north of Sisophon

by road in an area for years disputed between KR and government forces - now marks

an apparent frontline between the two KR factions.

Since his regiment occupied the village at RCAF request, several hundred KR troops

from the hardliners' stronghold of Anlong Veng moved to Thma Doul, within shooting

distance.

When the Post visited, escorted by RCAF and KR soldiers, none of Lorn's troops were

in sight: they were on the front-line, though he was adamant that "no fire has

been exchanged."

Will they, and others still under the command of the hardliners, be persuaded to

come over to the side of national reconciliation?

"It's hard to guess the minds of other commanders and their troops," he

simply says. "I can only say that the majority of Division 519 has seen how

meaningless this war is.

"It has been a long time that I have thought that this war was meaningless,"

he replies to a question. "But there was no way to get out of this organization.

"What we did was follow orders from the top. Now, this is a good opportunity

to break away."

Born in Battambang province, Lorn was a student in Mongkul Borei district before

the KR rose to power in 1975. He joined the movement, he says, after the Pol Pot

regime collapsed under the Vietnamese invasion in 1979.

He has never been to Phnom Penh, he says, and yes, he would like to.

What does he think the capital is like? He says he has only heard about Phnom Penh

from radio broadcasts such as the United States' Voice of America.

"From what I have heard on the radio, it is a happy life everyday for people

in Phnom Penh," he says with a laugh.

Does he regret the way he has spent the last 17 years? "I feel very regretful.

But it is also beyond regret.

"The main aim of the resistance was to kick the Vietnamese soldiers out of the

country. But since they withdrew in 1989, we have fought only our Khmer brothers."

After 1989, did he believe he was still fighting Vietnam for control of Cambodia?

"That's the message our leadership told us after 1989. I did believe that, but

I never saw with my own eyes any Vietnamese working with the government."

When did he stop believing that Vietnamese were working with the government? Lorn

just smiles.

So he hasn't stopped believing that? "There are still some Vietnamese in the

government but I don't know to what extent. But there are still some," he stresses.

And Vietnamese immigrants to Cambodia? He smiles again and succinctly sums up the

limits to the KR breakaway's new policy: "We expel the Vietnamese, but we stop

fighting our Khmer brothers."

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