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Logo of Phnom Penh Post newspaper Phnom Penh Post - KR defector tells of purges and killings

KR defector tells of purges and killings

K HMER Rouge leaders, angry at mass defections, are now conducting a vicious

purging of followers suspected of disloyalty.

In charge of the deadly

retribution is one-legged Khmer Rouge General Ta Mok, the guerrillas'

commander-in-chief, well known by Cambodians on both sides of the 25-year-long

civil war as a mass murderer.

General Mok, earned his reputation as far

back as the '60s, exerting ruthless control over his troops. He rivals even the

KR's official leader Pol Pot in power and cruelty.

The latest

high-ranking guerrilla to slip Mok's control is Heng Sarath, who describes

himself as the political commander of Khmer Rouge's northern division 980. He

joined the guerrillas as a youth in 1974.

Sarath, who says he planned his

escape from the guerrillas for two years, defected to the government on July 7,

after Khmer Rouge commanders ordered that he execute his subordinate for

collaboration.

Sarath's defection with 40 of his closest troops was

preceded by a mass defection in January when 431 fighters under his control

jumped sides.

"General Ta Mok was very angry about the defections and

ordered that the leadership ranks be purged of spies and bad components," said

Sarath, who commanded more than 550 KR fighters prior to the

defections.

"In my region, in May and June alone, around 12 to 15 Khmer

Rouge soldiers were executed on Ta Mok's orders because they were found

listening to the government's national radio," Sarath said.

Guerrillas

who changed their minds and returned to their bases after defecting to the

government have also been executed in Cambodia's north-west, the division

commander said.

Sarath said over 100 Khmer Rouge soldiers who had

disobeyed orders were being held in a large prison in the KR northern

headquarters at Anlong Veng, near the Thai border.

Two KR generals with

60 soldiers had recently led a protest at Anlong Veng about the jailing of

soldiers, but it was put down by Ta Mok, he said.

"There are constant

political and military courts held in the Anlong Veng headquarters and at the

center of it all is Ta Mok, who controls the distribution of rice and salaries

for the entire northern region," he said.

Government soldiers fare even

worse in the guerrilla camp, which is guarded by 4,000 fighters, Sarath said.

All captured soldiers are executed after they are interrogated.

Despite

the harsh discipline exacted on their own members at Anlong Veng, Sarath said

the headquarters offer relative luxury after months in the

jungle.

Relations between Thailand and the guerrilla base are "close"

Sarath said, with a thriving and lucrative log export business. The KR buy up to

300 tons of Thai rice a month.

Although busy with timber deals, Sarath

said the KR's aging leadership still adhere to the communist philosophies they

tried to implement so disastrously in 1975 to 1979, when one to two million

Cambodians died.

He estimates 70 percent of the guerrillas now follow

only in fear, avoiding a tightly constructed web of spies, retribution and

executions.

Mok's control reaches into the most isolated jungle camps in

the north via a closely monitored nationwide radio system and high level

conferences for commanders.

"We report every three days on military

actions like blowing up bridges and roads, planting poisoned bamboo sticks and

mines and burning houses," said Sarath.

"Every two or three months there

is a conference for commanders, at Bos Sbov on the Thai border north of Anlong

Veng". The meetings are attended by 66-year-old Pol Pot and 72-year-old Ta Mok,

Sarath said.

Tall and fit, Sarath, 39, said after being forced into the

KR at 17, he slept in trees for 18 of the last 22 years.

The increasing

violence within the secretive organization and dwindling supplies made life in

the jungle very difficult, despite regular salaries and bonuses paid for

military action or promised bounties for foreigners.

Up to a hundred

fighters a month were severely injured, many by mines, Sarath said, listing the

long stretcher journey to Anlong Veng hospital as another reason for

defecting.

Despite the strict control exercised over Khmer Rouge mobile

units, economic and family ties with "the enemy" - the Royal Cambodian Armed

Forces (RCAF) - have survived the years of killing.

Since ammunition and

weapon supplies from China and Thailand dried up following the 1991 Peace

Accords, the guerrillas made their own land mines and now buy government arms

and ammunition from local "middle men."

"Everything bought locally is all

RCAF ammunition, as far as I know," Sarath said.

Sarath plotted to move

his wife, Nang Sara, and three children from Anlong Veng to a

government-controlled village, in preparation for his defection.

Behind

enemy lines, blood ties with the government side meant he could visit her once

or twice a month, with the sanction of the district police chief who was his

cousin, and the provincial governor, his wife's uncle.

With intricate

knowledge of all guerrilla movements in the region covered by his former

division, Commander Sarath has now returned to Siem Reap to serve with the

RCAF.

Although Sarath said he was not worried by the dangers of returning

to his former territory, Ministry of Defence officials are concerned about the

safety of guerrilla defectors and their families, defence spokesman General Chum

Sambath said.

The murder of Colonel So Suvan and two other defectors in

southern Cambodia by a guerrilla revenge squad in April was a reminder that

guerrilla leaders were as angry about defections as the government was

pleased.

"No-body can guarantee the safety of defectors, the same as we

cannot guarantee the security of other villagers against Khmer Rouge attacks,"

said Sambath.

Sambath said the reprisals will not slow down the

defections though.

"If it was not good for the defectors why would others

still be coming to join the RCAF?" asked Sambath.

Military sources in

Poipet claim Khmer Rouge leaders executed 45 Khmer Rouge soldiers, 15 at Phnom

Malai, during July because the guerrillas refused to fight.

These reports

could not be independently confirmed.

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