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Letter: A KR who was what

Dear Editor,

Bora Touch's suggestion (Post, May 12) that our letter (Post, April 28) is an attempt

to shield current members of the Cambodian People's Party (CPP) who were formerly

members of the Communist Party of Kampuchea (CPK) from prosecution is baseless, and

contains serious errors of fact and interpretation.

First, the CPK structure and organization were not based on the model of the Communist

Party of the Soviet Union, but rather on the Indo-Chinese Communist Party (ICP),

out of the institutional legacy of which it was created. Like, therefore, the ICP,

it had no Political Bureau or Secretariat, but only a Central Committee and a Standing

Committee (similar to the Central Executive Committee of the ICP). Despite numerous

transformations, this superstructure was maintained right through to the CPK's purported

self-dissolution in 1981. The existence of both is mentioned in the public announcement

of that self-dissolution, and attested to by dozens of internal documents and interviews.

Second, because the CPK sprang from a regional Committee of the ICP, it never

had a General Secretary or First Secretary, but rather only a Secretary.

Third, Article 23 of the CPK Statutes described its Central Committee as its "highest

leading body", and it was therefore precisely its "statutory" leading

organ, as we stated.

Fourth, the CPK was never "incorporated" into either the Royal

Government of National Union of Kampuchea (GRUNK) or the National United Front of

Kampuchea (FUNK). Rather, the CPK jealously guarded its organizational independence

and strove to maintain and enhance its leadership role during the civil war of 1970-1975.

These endeavors included participating in and thereby infiltrating, influencing and

subverting GRUNK and FUNK in order to preclude any possibility that Sihanouk and

other non-Communist figures who predominated in their Beijing-based exile structures

might wield significant political power in Cambodia once the war was won.

Fifth, it is thus totally misleading to suggest that the FUNK Central Committee and

its Political Bureau were effectively directing events inside Cambodia, much less

that they somehow displaced the CPK's own Standing and Central Committees. There

was overlapping membership, but geographically and politically, there was a wide


Sixth, such members-in-exile of the FUNK superstructure as Chan Yourann, Chem Snguon,

Thiounn Mumm, Thiounn Prasith and Keat Chhon were merely that, and to suggest that

this made them CPK leaders is entirely fanciful. Some, such as Chan Yourann and Chem

Snguon, were not even CPK members.

Seventh, the CPK was not "reorganized" in 1976. It held a Party Congress

in January, which affirmed an expansion of the Central and Standing Committees, and

also acclaimed the formal abolition of GRUNK and FUNK and the establishment of a

Democratic Kampuchea (DK). As a member of the 1976 Central Committee, Khieu Samphan

was indeed in a position to replace Sihanouk when the latter realized he was stripped

of all influence and felt compelled to resign.

Eighth, however, in the cabinet of the DK Government announced in April 1976, Keat

Chhon was not named as Minister of Industry. That post (in the guise of "Chairman

of the Industry Committee") was held by Cheng An until his purge in November

1978. Under DK rule, Keat Chhon was in the "Bureaux Section" of the Ministry

of Foreign Affairs, where he held the title of "Ambassador at Large". It

is inconceivable that he was a member of the CPK Central Committee.

Ninth, as for Hor Namhong, it is tendentious to describe him as "chief of the

Boeng Trabaek Detention Centre". It would be more accurate to describe him as

chairman of the inmates' committee of this facility for the labor re-education of

non-Communist diplomats, intellectuals and others. As such he was, from 1977 until

January 1979, its most senior prisoner, but the person in charge of the camp was

a CPK cadre named Savan, who answered to the authority of Nuon Chea.

Hor Namhong himself does not appear to have been a CPK member. The suspicions of

his fellow inmates that his vociferous denunciations of their supposedly "feudal"

or other "reactionary" characteristics led to the arrest of some prisoners

and their subsequent execution at S-21 ("Tuol Sleng") are not substantiated

by the S-21 records. These indicate that such decisions were made independently by

S-21 itself on the basis of its own interrogations, without reference to anything

Hor Namhong may have said, reported or done.

Tenth, Uk Bunchheuan was never associated in any way with Boeng Trabaek. Until he

fled to avoid purge in May 1978, he was Deputy Secretary of the CPK Committee for

Sector 21 of the East Zone (eastern Kampong Cham), in which capacity he may have

crimes to answer for, but these would not have been committed in connection with

Boeng Trabaek.

In conclusion, we can only say that the errors in Bora Touch's letter, like the mistakes

in the original Post article, underscore yet again the need for a fully independent

and impartial judicial process that eschews political criteria for limiting (or expanding)

the scope of prosecutions. Otherwise, the truth will continue to be obscured or appear

to be obscured by the political and diplomatic agendas of far-from-disinterested

governments, be they seated in Phnom Penh, Beijing, Washington, Paris, Tokyo, Canberra,

Moscow or elsewhere; by proclivities toward unprincipled deal-making on the part

of some within the UN system; and by the objectives of dedicated friends and foes

of the CPP, inside and outside of Cambodia, Cambodian and non-Cambodian.

Only a genuinely fair trial that is clearly free from political and diplomatic interference

will dispel suspicions like those expressed in Bora Touch's letter, which reflect

the widespread Cambodian distrust engendered by the blatant politicking and diplomatic

spin-doctoring that continue to envelop negotiations over the shape of a trial.

Only a proper trial could definitively evaluate allegations or suspicions relating

to current CPP members who were CPK members, and ascertain whether they bear any

culpability under international law for the crimes committed while the CPK was in


In the absence of such a trial, impunity and propaganda will continue to ride roughshod

over justice and truth, further poisoning Cambodia's politics, polluting the historical

record and sullying the reputation of the international community.

Craig Etcheson, Steve Heder



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