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Logo of Phnom Penh Post newspaper Phnom Penh Post - The KR ends its 47-year war

The KR ends its 47-year war

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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

the mark.

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

military twist.

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

region.

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

homes.

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

finished."

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 said.

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.

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