Youngest Samlot defecor Ngoy Chantha, aged 15
The final reintegration of defecting Khmer Rouge soldiers was marked by formal ceremonies
in former rebel strongholds, smiling commanders, and soldiers in ill-fitting new
RCAF uniforms - as well as continuing uncertainty about KR loyalty in the event of
an international trial of their former leaders.
"This is the last of the defections, and it is a great contribution to ending
the more than two decades of chronic war, and it is the achievement of national unification
and reconciliation and a source of peace and stability in Cambodia," said Defense
co-Minister Gen. Tea Banh at a 9 Feb ceremony in Anlong Veng.
1700 fighters were formally welcomed into the government fold by Banh and his co-minister
Prince Sisowath Sirirath. On Feb 8, in Samlot, deputy prime minister Sar Kheng and
Commander-in-Chief Ke Kim Yan accepted 1800 defectors.
"This is the last day of my Khmer Rouge uniform," said Anlong Veng leader
Khem Nguon, watching his soldiers struggle with baggy new RCAF jackets and too-small
He laughed when asked if a possible international tribunal against KR leaders would
lead to renewed warfare. "No!" he said. "No one wants war, they want
In Samlot, however, some former rebels were less sure of that.
"Many of the defecting Khmer Rouge still support [KR leaders] Khieu Samphan
and Nuon Chea, and there will be more fighting [if there is a trial]," said
commander Iem Phan, who was on his second reintegration attempt. He defected with
Ieng Sary in 1996, only to rebel again in the wake of July 1997 fighting.
"This reintegration might be harder than the first," Phan added, declining
to elaborate further.
Defecting Samlot soldier Hem Chantha, 41, was more blunt. "I am happy because
the war is finished ... but if you try my boss [Khieu Samphan], the people who are
still loyal to him will get up and fight," he warned.
Khmer Rouge kids crowd around an anti-aircraft gun at the AV ceremony.
The lower-ranking KR seem to have little to fear in terms of punishment for the crimes
of the 1975-79 period, or more recent crimes. Even notorious Div 785, whose commander
admitted responsibility to Kyodo News for a 1998 massacre in Kampong Chhnang, has
been accepted into government ranks.
However, United Nations recommendations on a trial for top leaders are pending -
and that could threaten the much-vaunted national reconciliation.
"I cannot say whether I support or do not support a Khmer Rouge trial, but the
war is finished and we have to forget the past," Iem Phan said. "If the
father dies and the children are angy, then they try to fight, then the war is never