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Logo of Phnom Penh Post newspaper Phnom Penh Post - Peace and integration? Great!

Peace and integration? Great!

Peace and integration? Great!

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defector9-7.gif

KR DEFECTOR TOUCH MAO

BATTAMBANG - The disintegration of the Khmer Rouge has been a bit baffling for Touch Mao.

He is a KR defector who isn't fighting anymore, now drawing an RCAF salary. His bosses have all got high positions within the RCAF.

Great? End of story? Well... no.

Mao's trouble is that he's still locked up in jail here for following orders given to him four years ago as a soldier of the revolution.

He can't understand why. Surely being Khmer Rouge was a crime now forgiven and forgotten?

To be fair, since the mass defection of the Pailin-Malai axis, Mao's commanders (now enjoying high lives within RCAF) have reached him in prison to say, in effect, stay put (he doesn't have much choice), "not to worry about your criminal charges, because you're still KR", and that they'll sort it out.

But that was a year ago. They have since organized Mao a new RCAF salary - 60,000 riel and 50kgs of rice - which is being paid to his wife in Mong Russey.

It's an odd state of affairs, Mao agrees, looking at his blue prison uniform and contemplating what he gathers must be his new RCAF job. He's puzzled that 11 of his mates were freed in the aftermath of the Pailin defection "when they did exactly the same sorts of action for which I was found guilty".

What might have done it for Mao and his still-jailed colleagues is that they were caught and convicted before the bill outlawing the KR was passed in Phnom Penh. Mao's crime - being caught as a covert saboteur, planting landmines behind RCAF lines in 1994 - was dealt with by the local court, he says, as a "banditry" charge.

This approximately tallies with the prison authorities' view: "We don't have political prisoners here," says prison boss Dough Thoeung. "We just have Khmer Rouge who are bandits or robbers because they had no money."

Mao was a former SOC captain who lost his rank after RCAF was formed in 1993 as an integrated force of SOC and former resistance armies. Mao angrily defected to the KR, along with seven civilian friends.

He laid mines, "perhaps 100 or more", until being captured returning from a meeting in Samlot in April 1994. He says he only confessed his guilt and the names of his other accomplices after being twice beaten into unconsciousness. His friend Sam Hean was killed during the beatings, he says.

Another KR prisoner, Keo Seng (pictured next to Mao) says in 1994 he was caught in fighting ordered by Ny Korn, who is now an RCAF commander. A court sentenced him to five years "for being a bandit".

Both men believe they'll be released soon. But they're a bit worried they may have been forgotten.

Mao doesn't know who he's supposed to be fighting for now anyway. Hun Sen? Ranariddh? Sary? Mok? Sihanouk? "It's difficult for me to decide. Maybe they're all the same and it's all a big political trick."

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