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Logo of Phnom Penh Post newspaper Phnom Penh Post - Power struggle shatters KR leadership

Power struggle shatters KR leadership

T HE collapse of a deal to exile notorious Khmer Rouge chiefs Pol Pot, Ta Mok and

Son Sen and a Royal refusal to grant amnesty to two of them are believed to have

ignited the Anlong Veng in-fighting between the rebel leaders.

Pol Pot - the KR's supreme leader who has led the movement since its birth - appears

to have emerged the loser in a power-struggle with the KR's chief of general staff

Ta Mok, the rebels' most powerful military commander.

Mok, widely believed to retain control of the bulk of Anlong Veng's guerrilla forces,

is seeking an amnesty from the government, according to reliable sources.

The biggest question is whether Mok will be prepared to hand over Pol Pot to the

government in return for a pardon, providing that King Norodom Sihanouk can be persuaded

to grant one.

Khmer Rouge researchers, seriously entertaining the prospect that Pol Pot will be

handed over, are understood to be reviewing the evidence and potential witnesses

against the KR chief. The co-Prime Ministers, meanwhile, have sought the help of

the United Nations to establish an international tribunal to try Pol Pot.

Funcinpec, which initiated negotiations with Anlong Veng, to the ire of the Cambodian

People's Party (CPP), is pressuring the guerrillas to hand over Pol Pot, say diplomats

and party officials.

A key Funcinpec negotiator, General Nhek Bun Chhay, claimed to have personally seen

Pol Pot in Anlong Veng last Sunday. There has been no independent confirmation that

Pol Pot is still alive or, as is claimed by Funcinpec, that he is being held prisoner

in the KR base.

Funcinpec - loathe to be seen to be courting Mok, whose reputation for mass murder

is little better than Pol Pot's - is attempting to deal with more publicly acceptable

"intellectuals" within the rebel movement, party sources say.

The Anlong Veng ruptures turned bloody with the purported killings of the third member

of the leadership trio, KR Minister of Defense Son Sen, his wife Yun Yat and about

10 relatives. Son Sen and Yun Yat were apparently beaten and shot, and at least several

of their relatives run over by trucks, in the bloodletting - though observers as

high as Second Prime Minister Hun Sen have raised doubts that it happened.

It remains unproven who killed Son Sen, if dead he is, but Pol Pot reportedly fled

Anlong Veng. He fled in the direction of troops supposedly loyal to Son Sen, according

to one KR researcher, suggesting that it was not he - but more likely Ta Mok - who

ordered the killings.

The Anlong Veng crisis followed a Funcinpec negotiating bid to obtain defections

from Anlong Veng, the last main KR stronghold in Cambodia, according to party officials,

diplomats and researchers.

It is believed that Funcinpec proposed that Pol Pot, Ta Mok and Son Sen go into exile,

clearing the way for the defections and political reintegration of the remaining

hardline KR.

The deal was eventually accepted by the KR, Funcinpec sources say, but collapsed

when no country was prepared to take them. China, Thailand and Laos were approached

but refused to accept the three into exile.

"They did not have the chance to be self-exiled," said a key Funcinpec

negotiator, General Nhek Bun Chhay, the deputy chief of general staff of the Royal

Cambodian Armed Forces (RCAF), on June 14.

An alternative option, that the three would be permitted to remain in a remote "safe

haven" in Cambodia, was effectively quashed by a June 9 statement by the King

opposing amnesty for Pol Pot and Ta Mok.

Labelling the pair "the biggest criminals in Cambodia," the King said he

would never grant an amnesty for them. He held open the prospect of granting amnesties

to other leaders, including Son Sen, if the Prime Ministers agreed.

The King's statement apparently angered the rebel leaders and left them questioning

Funcinpec's ability to secure them immunity from any action against them.

"We could have given them [Pol Pot and Ta Mok] some area in the jungle and let

them stay there, without any political involvement," said one senior Funcinpec


"No pardon for Pol Pot and Ta Mok by the King - that left them with a big problem,"

said one diplomat.

On the night of June 9, the day of the King's statement, a meeting of the movement's

leadership was called, according to Nhek Bun Chhay.

When Son Sen did not show up, troops were dispatched to kill him. There are conflicting

accounts of who ordered the murder and why, but the other leaders were reportedly

suspicious that Son Sen was negotiating with the Cambodian People's Party (CPP) of

Second Prime Minister Hun Sen.

The killing has been widely blamed on Pol Pot, who reportedly fled toward the Thai

border northeast of Anlong Veng within hours of the killing.

Troops in that area, though under the control of Mok, are believed to be historically

loyal to Son Sen, according to Phnom Penh-based KR researcher David Ashley. "That's

one reason why Pol Pot wouldn't have been the one to kill Son Sen - why flee toward

Son Sen areas? It's our belief that Ta Mok killed Son Sen."

KR radio, broadcast from mobile transmitters in Anlong Veng, fell silent June 12.

It returned to the airwaves four days later with an unprecedented condemnation of

Pol Pot as a traitor to the rebel movement.

Further evidence of a Ta Mok-Pol Pot split have emerged with reports that Pol Pot

loyalists are leaving Anlong Veng, according to Ashley.

Troops from KR divisions 519 and 801, including some under the control of Pol Pot's

nephew So Hong, are reported to be fleeing Anlong Veng.

"Historically, they've never been under Ta Mok, unlike virtually every other

division up there."

The reasons for the apparent split between Pol Pot and Mok are unclear. Possibilities

include initial conflict on whether to accept the exile deal and disagreements over

the KR's strategy - particularly whether to pursue a switch in emphasis to political,

rather than armed, struggle - and who should lead it.

Of the suspected exile deal with Funcinpec, Ashley said: "It's certainly what

Funcinpec thought had been agreed. We don't know who agreed to it on the Khmer Rouge

side, and did they really agree to it? My inclination is that Pol Pot would never

agree to [exile]."

Fellow KR researcher Steve Heder said there are indications of divisions within the

younger KR generation who would take over from the KR leaders.

"My impression is that there was an attempt being made to have a smooth transition

of power from the older men to the younger men. It went wrong.

"It appears that the agreement of exile could not be implemented in practice.

It may be that they [Pol Pot, Ta Mok or Son Sen] did not agree with it, that they

pulled back, and those to whom power was going to be transferred are upset."

A Ta Mok deputy named Ngon was reportedly appointed to become the new chief military

cadre, and there was "significant unhappiness at Ngon's designation". In

particular, a senior Son Sen loyalist, Duol Saroeun, may have questioned Ngon's appointment.

On the KR political side, attention is focused on Khieu Samphan, head of the KR's

provisional government.

First Prime Minister and Funcinpec leader Prince Norodom Ranariddh has acknowledged

meeting Khieu Samphan, the rebels' nominal leader, in negotiations before the Anlong

Veng crisis erupted. CPP sources allege the meeting took place in Bangkok.

It appears that Funcinpec is attempting to negotiate defections led by Khieu Samphan,

and does not want Ta Mok to be officially part of the deal.

"It is very difficult for us to give amnesty to Ta Mok," said one Funcinpec

official. "That old man should be behind the scenes. Khieu Samphan should be

at the front. That would make it much easier."

Whether Samphan, closely-aligned to Pol Pot for decades, is willing to support Mok

is unclear. But Mok needed to work with Samphan to help negotiate an amnesty for

himself, the Funcinpec official said.

Khieu Samphan, according to Nhek Bun Chhay, is expected to announce soon the dissolution

of the KR's provisional government and declare support for a policy of "national


"It is their only chance to survive," said the Funcinpec official. "If

they are smart they would understand that."

Funcinpec is believed to be negotiating with three key KR officials, on the "intellectual"

side of the movement: Tep Khunnal, Mak Ben and Pech Bunreth. Several other rebel

cadre have reportedly been brought to Phnom Penh.

Hun Sen has opposed any role in politics for Khieu Samphan, and publicly told Ranariddh

to decide whether he wants to be in the government coalition or in the KR's provisional


"There is no question of integration or amnesty," Hun Sen said June 22,

adding that he would accept nothing but surrender from Anlong Veng. "This is

still a political game and I don't want to play this game as I am afraid to lose.

We can lose with anyone but not with Pol Pot. If we lose the game with Pol Pot, we

may risk the nation."

Funcinpec officials, in turn, claim that Hun Sen's objections to negotiations and

amnesties for KR leaders is hindering the handover of Pol Pot for an international


"If the Second Prime Minister agrees, it will be a 100% success and we will

just arrest Pol Pot, and send him to an international tribunal," said one Funcinpec




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