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Ke Pauk: faithful, brutal

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KE PAUK

Front man for the Anlong Veng defectors

Ke Pauk, the front man for the Anlong Veng defectors, is a seasoned Khmer Rouge

henchman implicated in massacres and purges during the 1975-79 Pol Pot regime.

Pauk bears remarkable similarities to Ta Mok, the man he has turned against: both

are veterans of half a century of war, each first taking up arms for the Khmer Issarak

independence movement; both were poorly-educated but became faithful and brutal servants

of Khmer Rouge policy; they are the only two known surviving Pol Pot regime regional

secretaries; and the pair of them worked together in ruthless purges which saw them,

as one KR researcher put it, "up to their armpits in blood".

"Next to Mok, he is probably the single bloodiest of them all," said another

expert, genocide investigator Craig Etcheson. Expressing great concern that Pauk

would escape justice, Etcheson declared: "The new hero of Cambodian national

reconciliation is high among the worst of the worst".

Asked to compare Pauk with Ieng Sary, the former Pol Pot foreign minister who won

a Royal pardon in 1996, Etcheson said: "Both Pauk and Ieng Sary deserve responsibility

as being among the intellectual authors of the mass killing, but Pauk was also directly

involved carrying out and commanding the killings."

Pauk, in an interview in Siem Reap town last week, blamed other people for the deaths.

Aged in his 60s, Pauk said he has held no formal position in the KR since 1990, but

acknowledged that he was a senior official in the movement for nearly 20 years. He

was a Central Committee member from 1972-90, he said, but he denied ever being in

the powerful Standing Committee of Pol Pot's Democratic Kampuchea regime.

A former Northern Zone and then Central Zone secretary during Democratic Kampuchea,

he said the Central Committee held no real power. Asked about the purges, he said

that it was only the Standing Committee which could "do something" during

the regime.

Identifying the Standing Committee members as Pol Pot, Nuon Chea, Ieng Sary, Son

Sen and Ta Mok, he said: "The five Standing Committee members are responsible

for the killing between 1975-79."

Asked if he would be prepared to testify at an international war crimes tribunal,

he answered: "If they want to try the five standing committee members, I am

happy to testify." Asked about Ieng Sary, he laughed and said: "All five".

Pausing, he added that he wouldn't have to testify in person before any court because

he had already "told everything I know" to the small group of journalists

present at the interview.

According to the writings of historian Ben Kiernan, director of the US-funded Cambodian

Genocide Program, Pauk ranked No 13 in the DK regime hierarchy. Pauk's attendance

is noted on the minutes of at least one meeting of the Standing Committee: an April

11, 1977 meeting (the day after senior official Hu Nim was arrested) which resolved,

in part, to "continue the purge, pursue the enemy and carry out normal tasks".

Pauk's signature also exists on several files sent to him by DK secret police chief

Son Sen, according to Youk Chhang, director of the genocide-investigating Documentation

Center of Cambodia.

The files do not show that "Ke Pauk ordered the killing of people directly".

But Chhang argued that such documents, concerning people who were executed, were

only sent to Standing Committee members, who bore collective responsibility for their

killings.

Ke Pauk, who said he was aged 68 although Kiernan puts his year of birth as 1934,

began his revolutionary career in the Issarak movement fighting for independence

from France. The son of a "middle-class farmer" in Kampong Thom, he joined

at age 18 after getting the barest of educations, he told the Post. "I can read

and write a little," he said.

According to Kiernan's book How Pol Pot Came to Power, Ke Pauk, whose real name is

Ke Vin, was imprisoned for three years in the 1950s. Upon release, he continued his

political activities until he was attacked by police and fled with a small group

of insurgents into Bos Pauk forest, in Kampong Thom.

"Ke Vin would later assume the revolutionary name Pauk, in memory of this place

of refugee. He would also become notorious for the bloody revenge he took on anyone

who was associated, however loosely, with the political system that had driven him

there," Kiernan writes.

By the early 1970s, he was military commander of the KR's Northern Zone, quickly

establishing for himself a reputation as one of the "most brutal of the figures

of Pol Pot's regime".

By 1974, he joined with the Southwest Zone's Ta Mok to lead the KR capture of Oudong,

north of Phnom Penh. More than 20,000 people were led to the jungle, virtually all

school-teachers and local officials were executed, and the town was razed.

After Pol Pot seized power in 1975, Pauk became Secretary of the Northern Zone (later

expanded and turned into the Central Zone, amid great bloodshed) and was linked to

purges of ethnic Chams and a massacre of rebellious civilians in Siem Reap's Chikreng

district.

But it was the bloody partnership between Pauk and Ta Mok in purging the Eastern

Zone in 1978 for which the pair are best known, historians say.

"The Southwest Zone forces under Mok and the Central Zone forces under Pauk

executed a hammer and anvil strategy on the East in early 1978, with Mok's troops

sweeping up from the south and driving the fleeing Eastern Zone forces into Pauk's

anvil, positioned along the river in Kampong Cham," Craig Etcheson wrote in

an email response to Post questions.

"The single greatest density of mass graves we found in Cambodia is in eastern

and north-central Kampong Cham province, dating from the first half of 1978,"

wrote Etcheson, a former Cambodian Genocide Program manager now working for a war

crimes investigation NGO, the International Monitor Institute. "There are thousands

of mass graves there. This is Pauk's work."

Twenty years after those graves were dug, Ke Pauk, in a Siem Reap hotel room, pulled

up his shirt to show his scars from half a century of battles. "The people are

tired of the long war," he said. "I think the Khmer Rouge regime has come

to an end now."

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