SOMEONE HAD A GOOD IDEA...
... to leave the jungle (top left), allowing Non Nou (in blue) and other KR leaders to sign away the struggle and turn their backs on the old ways.
Preah Vihear, Dec. 4.
When the Khmer Rouge leadership emerged from the jungle at Preah Vihear temple Dec
4, on their way back to Thailand, their smiles belied the fact they had just walked
away from a lifetime of ideological struggle, commitment and genocidal lunacy.
They also gave no hint that part of the deal was almost certainly the betrayal of
their erstwhile leaders Ta Mok, Nuon Chea and Khieu Samphan, who, according to the
Far Eastern Economic Review, were detained by Thai military at about the same time
as the negotiations were finishing up.
Khem Nguon, the Khmer Rouge chief of staff, was almost casual when he announced the
results of the day's negotiations. "Today, at two o'clock, I handed over my
forces to the Cambodian government," he said - 20,000 people, he later explained,
5,000 of whom were soldiers. Experts however say 500 to 1,000 soldiers would be closer
Without quibbling about numbers, this does seem to be the end of the Khmer Rouge.
It means that, along with the fall of the O'Smach resistance, it is the first time
since the Samlot rebellion in 1967, if not even years before that, that Cambodia's
central government is not fighting an armed uprising somewhere in the country.
The Khmer Rouge leaders and negotiators were in good spirits after the meeting. Laughing
and joking they slapped each other on the back, rang people from their mobile phones
with the news of their surrender to the government, and gossiped with each other.
The only unhappy faces among the group seemed to be the accompanying Thai military.
It may have been they were uncomfortable in mufti; it may have been regret at the
end of their business partners' parent organization; but the Thais attitude contrasted
markedly with the upbeat Khmer Rouge leaders.
In the front and center of the group, walking away from the meeting, was former Ta
Mok assistant, economic advisor and Pol Pot jailer Non Nou.
It was almost nine months ago to the day that Nou pronounced the KR dead following
the demise of Pol Pot. A week ago Nou got the chance to fill in the movement's grave
and throw away the shovel.
Speaking after the meeting with RCAF General Meas Sophea, Nou explained what happened
in the lead up to the surrender.
He said the fall of Anlong Veng was a body blow to the movement and then, in April,
about the same time Pol Pot died, the movement disintegrated.
He said that factional fighting broke out, but in a manner unlike previously when
internecine fighting tended to be between just two factions. This time the entire
movement blew apart into small groups.
He said there were a series of defections such as those of intellectuals Chan Youran,
Mak Ben and Thiounn Thioeunn, who fled to Pailin.
The defections continued with some people going to the government while others went
to Pailin or Phnom Malai.
Since that time Nou said he had been working at uniting all the various factions
and negotiating a settlement with the government.
In effect the decision to abandon the Marxist ideology and the violent struggle was
made some time ago.
Nou said that the negotiations with the RCAF concentrated on more concrete issues
rather than having to change the political mindset of the Khmer Rouge.
"We talked about the ownership of property for the people in the camp,"
he said. "The government agreed to give back all the property to the people
and guarantee their safety."
The leadership's concerns about money, living standards and - ironically - human
rights seems to lend weight to their claims of an ideological shift.
Similarly the choice of leaders and spokesmen for the new-look group seems to make
the idea of their reintegration more palatable - maybe with the exception of Meas
("Ta" or grandfather) Muth.
Most of them are young, in their 40s, and all claim they were too junior to have
taken part in the executions and incompetence that killed up to 2 million Cambodians.
And some of them can say they were not even in Cambodia during the DK regime, such
as the case of Khem Nguon who was studying in China.
Nou, as befitting an economics advisor, concentrated particularly on how the surrender
would affect the national budget.
"Now I have joined them they can take all the money that was being used for
Khmer fighting Khmer [and use it] to develop the country," he said.
Khem Nguon wasn't far behind with the financial rhetoric though he did give it a
He said that there would be no more fighting with guns but instead, from now on,
"we are all to join hands together to fight against the economic crisis".
Muth, who headed the hard-line stronghold of Samlot and is now in charge of the committee
responsible for the reintegration, said the fighting had cost Cambodia too much,
destroying land to the east and to the west and killing thousands.
Cambodia had been the victim of political strategies during and since the French
times, Muth said, which had divided society.
He said that especially over the past 20 years this has lead to "blood relations
hating each other and car-rying guns to shoot each other."
It was time this stopped, he said, and therefore they had decided to defect to the
government to "end the tragedy of our people".
Muth's comments were made with a straight face, which must have been an effort given
that during his early life with the KR he was a rising star under Ta Mok, and at
a time of extensive and bloody purges. Muth went on to marry Mok's daughter, which
probably also helped his rise in the party.
According to KR researcher David Ashley Muth's later career in the KR came unstuck
when he got caught helping himself to the movement's cash.
More recently, he defected once to the government then re-defected back to the KR
after the July coup. This move ensured the continuation of fighting in the Samlot
Nou was keen to distance the new leadership from the past. He said Mok, Chea and
Samphan had "disappeared" and the new leaders were not related to the old.
From now on, he said, the people could sleep well because they need not fear any
fighting between Khmer and Khmer.
He also wanted the UNHCR and other NGOs to help them when they went back to their
Despite misgivings in some quarters, including KR civilians in the Pou Noy refugee
camp in Thailand that the end of the Khmer Rouge is too good to be true, Non Nou
insisted it was definitely the end. "This time the war around the country is
Khem Nguon echoed Nou's comments about the finality of the KR, saying that the Khmer
Rouge, in effect, ceased to exist when they tried Pol Pot last year. "We are
not Khmer Rouge. We have announced that we ended the Pol Pot regime and we are following
the new way, the democratic regime."
He said that he was disappointed people did not recognize the changes they had made.
"We love democracy, support democracy and protect democracy, but all the people
are still calling me Khmer Rouge. They are not calling me the ënew struggle movement',"
He stressed that things had really changed, for example, "in Anlong Veng, we
have no killing fields not even 500 [victims] or less."
Given his avowed commitment to democracy the Post asked him about the attack in Anlong
Veng during the elections earlier this year which killed two people and destroyed
ballots and equipment.
Nguon denied any knowledge or association with the action, saying he suspected it
was the work of robbers trying to steal the tractor that was carrying the equipment.
By Dec 7 the leaders were in Phnom Penh and at a press conference in the Ministry
of Information, suggesting reasons for their defection that smacked of rehearsal
and window dressing.
Nguon said they had rejoined society because the election was run so fairly and honestly.
UN secretary-general Kofi Anan had recognized Hun Sen's government, so the ex-KR
were happy to do so too, he said.