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Letter: Trial might shed light

Dear Editor,

Your recent article describing the "re-education" and disappearance of Prince Naradipo reopens a number of questions concerning the fate of children and grandchildren of King Sihanouk, as well as other non-Communist personalities associated with him through their membership in the Royal Government of National Union of Kampuchea (GRUNK) and the National United Front of Kampuchea (FUNK), which Sihanouk headed from 1970 through 1975.

It has been widely asserted and presumed that these non-Communists, who were allowed to return to Cambodia after the Communist Party of Kampuchea seized power in April 1975, were invited back to be killed, and that, similarly, Prince Naradipo and other offspring of Sihanouk were separated from him in order to be killed.

Your article's recounting of what happened to Naradipo, however, appears to confirm the account given in the "confessions" of the cadre mentioned in it, Cho Chhan, alias Sreng, the Deputy Secretary of the Communist Party's North Zone, who was, as your article notes, arrested in early 1977.

According to Sreng's "confessions", "the Organization's policy" up until the time of his arrest had been to keep "a number of members of the Royal Family," including specifically Naradipo, alive. Also to be exempted from the Party's general policy of "smashing" military officers, policemen, military police and "reactionary" civil servants of the old regime were two close political associates of Sihanouk who had attempted to prevent the coup that had overthrown him in 1970: Ung Hong Sath and Y Tuy.

As Laura Summers at the University of Hull has recalled, these "loyal Sihanoukists" had remained in Phnom Penh after the coup and tried to find a way of ending the civil war and bringing Sihanouk back into power. They were kept alive after being evacuated in 1975 to the North Zone. Also kept alive, albeit in "re-education" camps or while undergoing heavy labour, were most of the non-Communist members of GRUNK and FUNK who had returned to Cambodia from Beijing, Paris and other places of exile.

Kept alive that is, until late 1976 or early 1977, when many suffered the same fate as Naradipo, Ung Hong Sath, Y Tuy and others who were swept out of their re-education camps and killed, at the same time that Sreng and many Party members who like him were considered "petty bourgeois intellectuals" were also arrested and executed.

Did all of this reflect a preconceived plan, worked out shortly before or shortly after April 1975? Evidently not. Instead, starting in late 1976, "the Organization's" policy changed in a way that greatly increased the pace of killings. Why did it change? It seems to have changed because the Organization's other policies were failing: on the economic and many other fronts, the revolution had clearly gone terribly wrong. The Organization apparently needed scapegoats and wanted to preempt the coalescence of widespread but atomized opposition inside and outside of Communist ranks.

However, neither Sreng's "confessions" nor other documents so far available make clear exactly who in "the Organization" made this decision, how widely it was disseminated or to what extent it was implemented through units other than S-21 (Tuol Sleng). Claims by Ieng Sary and assertions made about Khieu Samphan that they were out of this decision-making loop cannot be proved or disproved by the existing documentary trail.

Perhaps a proper and fair trial of them and other "senior Khmer Rouge" would reveal whether they are as deeply implicated in such matters as Pol Pot, Nuon Chea, Son Sen and Duch.

A less than fair trial, however, probably would leave such questions with only highly unsatisfactory answers.

Steve Heder, School of Oriental and African Studies, London

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