PICH CHHEAN AND YIM PHANNA
UNHAPPY Pol Potists sacked from their posts, opportunists looking for better business
prospects and war-weary guerrilla veterans. These are the chiefs of the Khmer Rouge
While the ordinary folk of Anlong Veng may want to escape Ta Mok's strictness and
have the freedom to sell bananas, chickens and pigs, analysts suggest that the rebellion
leaders will be expecting far more from the government.
The loose coalition of senior, or formerly senior, cadre who spurred the revolt were
likely united by one thing - the promise of money and semi-autonomy - political and
KR observers suggested.
As with the earlier KR breakaway in timber- and gem-rich Phnom Malai and Pailin,
"I think we should see the Anlong Veng split in the perspective of business,"
said one Phnom Penh-based analyst. "What is the business in the area - it's
wood, it's logging."
With Ta Mok controlling the purse strings since last year's coup against Pol Pot,
he was almost certainly not dishing out much money to senior cadre who were formerly
close to the deposed Brother No 1, the observer said.
Many of the mid-to-higher ranking Anlong Veng defectors - who ironically were being
called Pol Pot "hardliners" not so long ago - had been stripped of their
positions and replaced by Mok loyalists.
"It's logical that when these people found themselves becoming poorer and poorer...
they became the basis of the [breakaway] movement," the observer commented.
"It's not ideology. It's not 'we want reconciliation.' Sure, no-one wants to
fight any more, but it has most likely to do with business, and Ta Mok's way of doing
business. Some people were excluded."
A critical issue, some suggest, is Thailand's efforts - under considerable international
and Cambodian pressure - to stem the flow of logs from Anlong Veng across the border
in the past two years.
"They haven't been getting logs across, I know that for sure," said American
journalist Nate Thayer, a witness to Pol Pot's trial last July who has visited Anlong
Veng several times. "I saw the [stockpiled] logs, for one, and they were also
begging me for answers on how to get the logs out."
Thayer said: "It's a serious situation in which millions of dollars of logs
are literally rotting away. It means a big incentive to defect, if they're given
a piece of the pie.
"The logging routes can open up if the Cambodian and Thai governments agree.
If those areas come under government auspices, there's no reason why a deal can't
be done for that to happen."
Several defectors last week confirmed difficulties in trading with Thailand. "It's
very difficult to sell timber to the Thai side," one low-ranking soldier said.
"Even to bring rice into Anlong Veng became difficult - we had to hide it under
piles of dirt in trucks." Asked the reason for the obstacles, he replied: "Because
the Khmer Rouge are outlawed - the government asked Thailand to stop the trade."
Although no one doubts that Ta Mok is rich - breakaway leader Ke Pauk said Mok had
claimed, after deposing Pol Pot, to have 600 million Thai baht ($17 million) stashed
away - defectors complained that his wealth had not been spread to them.
Another key factor, analysts speculated, is the example of Pailin and Malai - which
have retained virtual autonomy over economic, social and military matters since their
breakaway while benefitting from the peace and security of integration with the government.
"Certainly, many in Anlong Veng would have been looking at them and thinking
'Hmm, that's a better deal than having to fight the government every dry season',"
said one observer.
Any active role by Pailin and Malai leaders in supporting the split from Ta Mok is
denied by the Anlong Veng mutineers. Representatives of Pailin leader Ieng Sary and
Ta Mok met for talks after Pol Pot's overthrow, according to independent sources,
but the content of their discussions is unknown.
Also uncertain is whether there was contact between the Anlong Veng defectors and
their Pailin counterparts before the split. Certainly, they wasted little time in
renewing old acquaitances afterward: Pailin Governor Ee Chhean was spotted in Siem
Reap at the same hotel where Ke Pauk stayed a few days after the breakaway.
What is clear is that the Anlong Veng deserters closely followed the Pailin/Malai
model, and are seeking semi-autonomy. "The same as Pailin," said Pich Chheang,
a senior defector, when asked what kind of system was wanted in Anlong Veng.
The decision to join the uprising was probably not a difficult one for people who
were historically close to Pol Pot such as Chheang, the KR deputy minister of defense
and an Anlong Veng deputy commander until he was sacked by Ta Mok.
"When Ta Mok toppled Pol Pot, people were surprised." remarked Chheang.
"The people knew that Pol Pot was the top leader and had protected the Democratic
Kampuchea movement for many years, so when he was charged with being a traitor, no-one
Ke Pauk, who said he held no KR post since 1990, agreed that many people "did
not like Pol Pot's trial. They thought that even though he made some mistakes, he
was a good leader. People found out that Ta Mok was stricter."
The odd man out in the Anlong Veng insurrection is perhaps the main player, former
Div 980 commander Yim Phanna, who seemed to have every reason to be a Mok loyalist.
Phanna said he was a distant relative of former KR defence minister Son Sen, whose
murder on Pol Pot's orders last June that sparked Mok's seizure of power.
"I cannot say how much," Phanna replied when asked whether he was upset
at the execution of Son Sen and his entire family. "I was very, very angry."
Phanna, promoted to be a regional commander after Mok took control, added: "I
suggested to Ta Mok that Pol Pot be sent to an international court. Ta Mok did not
agree. He kept saying that if they sent Pol Pot to the international court, they
should send Hun Sen too.
"But a lot of people were very happy to see Pol Pot put on trial [in Anlong
Veng]. Ta Mok, he understood that the people wanted to send Pol Pot to a court."
Among a dozen or so senior- and lower-level defectors spoken to by the Post, opinions
differed on Pol Pot; some were happy to see him banished, while others expressed
sympathy for him. However, as one remarked in a comment echoed by virtually everyone:
"After he overthrew Pol Pot, Ta Mok said the people would have freedom, peace
and reconciliation. I was very happy. That's what Ta Mok said, but it was not true."
Several people said that their hopes for some kind of peace were raised - particularly
in the period when Funcinpec was negotiating with Anlong Veng in the month between
Pol Pot's overthrow and the July 5-6 fighting in Phnom Penh - but then dashed by
Did the new KR leader ever have any intention of seeking peace and integration, at
least in name, with the government? Yim Phanna, his former loyalist, claimed that
"Ta Mok spoke of reconciliation," said Phanna, who suggested that Mok realized
he had to deal with his arch-enemy Second Prime Minister Hun Sen. "As I understood
it, one part of Ta Mok's policy was reconciliation with Hun Sen.
"Yes, they are words I heard from Ta Mok with my own ears. One day I had a conversation
with Ta Mok about Hun Sen; he said that Hun Sen is a Khmer, so we have to deal with
So what changed? "After the events in Phnom Penh on July 5 and 6, Ta Mok joined
with the [Funcinpec] resistance forces," replied Phanna. "He changed his
beliefs about Hun Sen. After July, Ta Mok got stricter and stricter and wanted to
fight. But the commanders, the soldiers and the people, they didn't want war any
The will to fight, as one military observer suggested, had been replaced by other
desires a long time ago.
"From the military point of view, they were nearly inactive," the observer
said of Div 980 and most of the others around Anlong Veng. "They were there
to cut wood. There was no strategy to gain military benefits; that was not their
interest any more."
Phanna, meanwhile, got a taste of what continuing the war meant: earlier this year
he stepped on a home-made mine near Phnom Kulen - laid by the Funcinpec resistance,
he said with a wry grin - and was lucky not to lose his leg.
Why did he turn against the man who promoted him? Phanna replied: "The reason
I decided that Ta Mok was a bad man is that he kept on fighting this war."