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Logo of Phnom Penh Post newspaper Phnom Penh Post - KR Blueprint for the Future Includes Electoral Strategy

KR Blueprint for the Future Includes Electoral Strategy

Current boycott of Phase II an effort to buy time, build future political base

The Khmer Rouge's refusal to cooperate with key aspects of the Paris peace accord

has raised again the question of their sincerity in accepting a political solution

to end the Cambodian conflict or whether they indeed secretly seek a military solution

to seize unilateral power.

Following a long-term strategy outlined by Pol Pot and the senior leadership several

years ago, the Khmer Rouge are positioning themselves to take advantage of the peace

process, whether that effort succeeds or fails.

Internal documents of the Khmer Rouge-including a major speech by Pol Pot to cadre

obtained by the Phnom Penh Post-emphasize a stepped-up program to build their political

base throughout the country.

Simultaneously, however, they are aggressively pursuing independent financing, stockpiling

military equipment, and maintaining their armed forces intact in the event that they

are isolated from a political settlement and cut off from international support.

Since being overthrown by the Vietnamese invasion in late 1978, the Khmer Rouge have

rebuilt a strong, disciplined, and well-equipped military force that operates through

rear sanctuaries along the Thai border.

Organized primarily in small units, they have relied on guerrilla tactics to harass,

weaken, and demoralize their opponents-the Vietnamese-installed government of Prime

Minister Hun Sen-while at the same time attempting to build popular support in the


"A clarification here," Pol Pot told a gathering of cadre in late 1988,

"Our army is not going to defeat the enemy by fighting them. These days our

army goes into the interior to build up popular strength."

A transcript of the 68-page speech outlining the Khmer Rouge strategy for years to

come was obtained by the Phnom Penh Post.

"Previously our troops did not know how to conduct popular work because the

concrete fact was that they did not have any faith in the people, and instead relied

exclusively on bullets and other material things," Pol Pot said, referring to

the disastrous years in power in which hundreds of thousands died in a fanatical

experiment to create an agrarian utopia.

"We are now fashioning an army that knows how to do popular work."

All indications are that the Khmer Rouge are enjoying success in this strategy, gaining

more popular support as their opposition becomes increasingly corrupt and the economy

continues to deteriorate.

Since launching a protracted offensive after the official Vietnamese withdrawal in

late 1989, the Khmer Rouge have seized large tracts of areas in the northern and

western parts of Cambodia. Previously largely contained within their jungle sanctuaries

along the Thai border, they now operate in hundreds of villages, and in every province.

The Khmer Rouge, in documents handed over to the United Nations Transitional Authority

in Cambodia (UNTAC) as required by the Paris peace agreement, claim an official troop

strength of 27,500.

The accuracy of such figures are in dispute. The Cambodian People's Armed Forces-the

Hun Sen regime army-estimates that there are only 11,800 Khmer Rouge forces. U.N.

military intelligence officials in Phnom Penh say the Khmer Rouge claims are high,

and give a rough estimate of 17,500 men in the Khmer Rouge army, with 5,000 additional

forces capable of being formed into armed units if necessary.

Regardless, it's clear they have sufficient forces to carry out their program effectively,

given that their military activity is subordinate to their political objectives.

Their troops are organized into 25 divisions and two independent regiments with specific

areas of operation covering the entire country. Each military unit has senior political

officers who conduct extensive political propaganda to both cadre and villagers.

These political-military officers conduct underground work in areas under the nominal

control of the Hun Sen forces, as well as areas already under Khmer Rouge control.

The organization continues to be led by the exact same leaders who were the architects

of their disastrous years in power. Pol Pot remains in uncontested control of the

Khmer Rouge.

Decisions are made by a collective senior leadership that is estimated at about ten.

These include Khmer Rouge nominal leader President Khieu Samphan, Commander-in-Chief

of the army Son Sen, Nuon Chea, and key military leaders such as Ta Mok, the powerful

one-legged commander who controls the north of the country.

In addition, in a policy instituted by Pol Pot himself in 1986, the Khmer Rouge have

developed a new, younger generation of leadership, several of whom hold key positions

of power in the central "core group" collective leadership.

This younger generation of new faces has little disagreement with their elders, but

are not seen as tainted by the past. They are expected to assume significant leadership

roles in a new party that the Khmer Rouge will announce in the future.

Building a Popular Base

As early as 1988, Pol Pot and the Khmer Rouge launched efforts to create a self-sufficient

military organization in the event of a cutoff of international support.

"When in the days to come the country has been liberated [from the Vietnamese]

and there is peace, this will be the genesis of many new problems both domestically

and externally," Pol Pot told senior cadre. "The situation will be extremely

complex, and both the enemy and the rest of them will go all out to eliminate us."

"Once peace comes they will descend from everywhere, and even the biggest of

the cowards will come on strong. They will be arriving flush with capital in the

form of foreign money. These guys have international capitalist backing. How must

we fight in order to win? We must have strength. What kind of strength? Popular strength.

That is it in a nutshell," he said.

Senior Khmer Rouge officials accuse the western powers in UNTAC of propping up the

Phnom Penh regime and attempting to weaken and destroy the Khmer Rouge. They are

accurate that they are loathed by the international community and were only included

in the peace process because the western powers felt a real political solution would

be impossible without them.

Part of the Khmer Rouge blueprint for the future has been to create separate economic

trade zones that bring money into the organization without relying on Phnom Penh

and other areas not under their control. This enables them to maintain a dual economic

system while participating in the peace process.

To this end, they have created a network of roads extending from northern Cambodia

down to the Gulf of Thailand that allow for trade directly from their control zones

to Thailand. Through logging and gem mining, they currently add millions of dollars

a month to their coffers.

Stockpiling Arms

It is believed that the Chinese have cut off all military aid to the Khmer Rouge,

as required by the Paris peace accord.

In anticipation of that, the Khmer Rouge began stockpiling ammunition and weapons

several years ago in secret jungle caches throughout Cambodia. They are thought to

have stashed enough ammunition to last two to five years of continued warfare.

The Cambodian war has never been a high-tech war, and has been conducted largely

without sophisticated weaponry. There has never been a significant use of air power,

even though Vietnamese and Hun Sen troops maintained a squadron of Soviet fighters

and some attack helicopters.

The Khmer Rouge reportedly received 24 Chinese T-59 main battle tanks, and have captured

at least four Soviet T-54 main battle tanks. They are rumored to have a limited number

of HN 5A man-portable surface-to-air missiles.

But they have relied largely on light arms-Chinese AK-47s, rocket-propelled grenade

launchers, and land mines. In addition, they have sufficient light artillery, rockets,

and mortars (60 mm and 82 mm), the DK-82 and DK-75 recoilless rifle, as well as large

guns ranging from 85 mm to 130 mm.

To date, they have refused to hand over their weapons or canton their troops as called

for by Phase II of the peace agreement, and they continue to bar UNTAC from areas

under their control.

They claim that Vietnamese forces remain hidden throughout Cambodia, and condemn

UNTAC for not verifying the withdrawal of Vietnamese troops as required by the peace


They say that they will only disarm their forces once the Supreme National Council

assumes authority over Cambodia and the Phnom Penh government is dismantled, as they

contend the peace accord requires.

Buying Time

The Khmer Rouge's lack of cooperation with UNTAC has led many analysts to believe

that the U.N. peace plan is on the brink of collapse and a return to civil war imminent.

But the Khmer Rouge's current intransigence is more likely only a tactical move designed

to contribute to the further collapse of the Phnom Penh regime and to buy them time

to build support in the countryside.

None of the Khmer Rouge actions in recent months-including their refusal to enter

into Phase II of the cease-fire-are sufficient grounds to conclude that they will

completely abandon the peace process altogether.

Internal documents make it clear that the Khmer Rouge are under no delusion that

they are currently capable of winning a military victory.

In addition, they realize that significant portions of the population continue to

hate them for their years in power. They know any military victory by the Khmer Rouge

would result in rebellion by a population which, at this point, will never accept

them in sole control of the government.

Aware of their shortcomings, they are focusing on building a base through political

and electoral means-at least for the near future.

Looking towards the future, Pol Pot told cadre: "One thing that is very obvious

is the necessity that there be a united government and political administration composed

of various forces. If we were to hold power all on our own, we would not have sufficient

domestic strength nor sufficient strength of international support."

The Khmer Rouge will most likely accept a limited success in the 1993 elections,

allowing 5 to 10 years to regain political supremacy in Cambodia.

They hope to gain enough seats in the first election in order to have representatives

in the constituent assembly arguing the issues they hope will gain them popular sympathy.

"Possession of popular strength translates into possession of political administration

in the villages. It also begets representation in parliament, which means persons

belonging to us will be in the assembly," Pol Pot told his followers.

"Suppose there will be 100 seats in the Kampuchea National Assembly, it would

not be bad if we had 20 persons, better if we had 30. . .if we have a number of popular

representatives in the parliament we will inevitably have some representatives in

the government and major ministries."

After the 1993 elections-without the United Nations and the current influx of foreign

aid capital that serves as artificial and probably temporary transfusions stabilizing

the Hun Sen regime-they fully expect that the popular legitimacy of their rivals

will dissolve.

Corruption, which has pervaded all recent Cambodian governments and critically undermined

their popular support, is remarkably absent within the Khmer Rouge and shows every

sign of cannibalizing the current Phnom Penh regime.

Failures in the economy, widespread corruption, and the ability to exploit a widespread

dislike of Vietnam's perceived influence in Cambodia, all contribute to the Khmer

Rouge steadily gaining popular legitimacy.

It is their hope that time will make people forget the atrocities of the past.

By seizing on issues which improve the lot of the desperately poor and neglected

80 percent of the population who are farmers, their disciplined and non-corrupt organization

will look increasingly good in comparison to their opponents.

So while maintaining a strong underground network that secretly maintains their military

strength, the Khmer Rouge will likely continue with a dual political program that

will include participation in the 1993 elections.

What happens after the U.N. leaves Cambodia to the control of its own elected leaders

and new political parties depends on whether other Cambodian parties can address

the issues that contribute to the Khmer Rouge's growing political strength.

Whatever happens, the Khmer Rouge are prepared for either war or peace, through a

war with bullets or with a "hearts and minds" political strategy.

It is clear that Cambodia's political future includes the Khmer Rouge, only a decade

ago thought to be forever discredited by their disastrous years in power.



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