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Logo of Phnom Penh Post newspaper Phnom Penh Post - Prince's KR deal laced with treachery

Prince's KR deal laced with treachery

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KR plotted to betray Prince's alliance and wage new war

A QUESTION OF JUDGEMENT?

Prince Ranariddh (seen returning May 19) still denies he colluded with the KR, for which he was convicted and amnestied.

THE Khmer Rouge accepted Prince Norodom Ranariddh's overtures last year to join the National United Front (NUF) but - secretly - only to strengthen itself to later betray the Prince and plunge Cambodia back into a regime "led by the poor peasant farmer", according to internal KR political documents.

There is no suggestion Ranariddh was aware of what the Khmer Rouge were privately thinking and discussing from their isolation within their jungle base, but the documents:

- suggest that Ranariddh's consistent claims that Funcinpec had never cooperated with the Khmer Rouge may not be based in fact;

- may bring into question the thinking among many, particularly Western analysts and diplomats, that the Funcinpec negotiations prior to July would have brought peace to Cambodia, a hope many say was subsequently destroyed by Hun Sen's coup;

- may suggest to some people that many of Hun Sen's justifications for his destruction of Funcinpec's military in July, as outlined in the CPP White Paper, were, according to the Khmer Rouge's own intentions of the time, correct;

For others, the papers may bring into question the sincerity of senior-level defections that have been won by Hun Sen since.

Senior CPP advisers say the papers will change the Cambodian perception of Hun Sen's actions in July, and possibly the world's as well.

Funcinpec officials say the Prince was negotiating in good faith.

NUF member Sam Rainsy said that if true, the documents may suggest that Ranariddh was outside his mandate in negotiating militarily. However, he said there was no culpability on the Prince's behalf if the Khmer Rouge had other designs for the apparent alliance being proposed.

The papers also say that the KR was fighting in O'Smach alongside Nhek Bun Chhay's troops at least in December, and probably as early as September, despite denials as recently as last month by Ranariddh that his forces there had ever had assistance from the KR.

According to the KR, Ranariddh believed his negotiations would secure military and political support for Funcinpec against the CPP. Nuon Chea is quoted saying on June 28, 1997: "In the past few months Ranariddh has run to us [for help] because Ranariddh doesn't have forces." In fact the KR was using the Prince as a vehicle to rebuild their own weakened forces and continue their fight for power.

The papers show that the Khmer Rouge had been suffering internal power struggles and were crippled by defections.

They were seriously concerned about their future and saw the NUF as a life-jacket.

Ranariddh's plans to work with the Khmer Rouge were devastated by the July coup which left Fun-cinpec militarily and financially crippled.

The papers show the thinking of the Khmer Rouge hierarchy, their internal splits and the real view they held of the then First Prime Minister. The minutes show the political discussions were usually led by Ta Mok or Nuon Chea, and occasionally by Khieu Samphan and others.

Only the top cadre attended the meetings.

Ranariddh's initial attempts to secure a deal with Anlong Veng were spectacularly unsuccessful.

KR military school political director Seng said that Ranariddh sent his people to Anlong Veng to enlist their help to "fight the puppets". The 15 people that landed by helicopter near Anlong Veng were arrested and ten of them killed. The papers say the group was caught in the middle of a Pol Pot-Ta Mok power struggle. Pol Pot was opposed to the negotiations but Ta Mok supported them.

Later attempts were more fruitful. By June Ranariddh was attempting to secure the Khmer Rouge involvement in the National United Front - a move NUF member Sam Rainsy said this week was outside his mandate.

At the time Ranariddh was reticent about admitting his involvement in the negotiations with the KR and is reported as saying that if they applied to join he could not say no. He gave no indication he was courting them as successfully as the papers show.

While ostensibly it was a move to have peacefully integrated the KR - something Ranariddh has always said was his aim - rebel leaders had other, more sinister ideas.

Ta Mok is quoted on June 25, a week before the coup, as saying: "Now is the time of civil war which is very dangerous. Now we keep Anlong Veng as core leader."

Members of the group spent much time discussing the proposal to join and eventually all concluded it was to their advantage. "We must join the Front," one group member says in an entry dated June 28.

Nhorn, a standing committee member, said: "In 1970 we created Sihanouk as president, but we decided everything... Now Ranariddh is the initiator. Ranariddh needs us, we also need him.

"Ranariddh's boat is sinking in the sea but our boat is not. We have to help him but the way we help them is to offer him a stick - not a hand, not an embrace, not to let him cling to our boat or we all die. We have to play a trick.

"Ranariddh wants to use us as a water buffalo to get across the mud but we have to ride on the water buffalo," he says.

A more direct summation of what was planned came from permanent committee member and military official Ta Tem when talking about the events in retrospect. "The Front is not important, signing to join the Front obtains us legitimacy, once we are legitimate the world will want to help us.

"We do not lose with just a word of recognition of the Constitution.

"The [National] United Front wins, the yuon soldiers immediately die. We retake the legal position and plan. In doing so we survive.

"The Front is only a transition to grab forces, not to go to die but to grab forces and fight the yuon."

Survival was foremost in senior KR military officer Sourn's mind: "I have to join the front as my forces have been reduced a lot and I have no more forces to fill in. Joining the front means survival - but survival for fighting. We will win very soon."

Meanwhile a way of regaining power had been planned. Funcinpec, the minutes show KR cadre saying, had agreed to cede local-level control to the KR, while Funcinpec was assured control at provincial level. "We take the districts, communes, villages," says Ta Tem. "The important thing is that we are rampant."

He also believed that they would be able to entice breakaway leaders Ieng Sary, Ee Chhean, Pheap and Phin back.

Nuon Chea said that Ranariddh had a meeting with Khieu Samphan on June 1 about the 14-point plan. A meeting that Ranariddh initially denied then admitted.

Even though the Front offered the KR a chance to revitalise itself not all the leaders were happy with joining them.

Nuon Chea was particularly unhappy about the allegiance, referring to the Front as "the stooge of foreigners" and Ranariddh as "the stooge of France."

"The Front is only the bark not the heartwood of the tree," he said in speech on June 28. "In the past few days Ranariddh has run to us for help because Ranariddh does not have forces.

"When the Front is confronted with difficulty they run away but when the country is safe they return to their interests.

"Don't believe that Ranariddh will win the election and help us. We were cheated once. Be careful of being cheated again."

However in the end he realized that they had no option but to join with NUF.

"In short the Front is a swindle but we join the Front to disperse the enemy forces and take a chance to build forces from the people," Nuon Chea said.

By July 3 Ranariddh had signed a joint declaration between the NUF and the Anlong Veng KR however it was never signed by KR nominal leader Khieu Samphan, despite his willingness to do so. Within two days Ranariddh's forces were fighting against Hun Sen, and losing.

Following the coup the KR moved into a stronger bargaining position, though the documents show that their opinion of Ranariddh and his forces was on the way down.

In a September 28 entry KR commander Saroeun said that the RCAF soldiers had been trying to use psychological warfare against the soldiers in O'Smach. For instance, he says RCAF were calling out they would attack at a certain time and a certain place.

He said it did not affect the KR troops but some of Nhek Bun Chhay's forces had run away.

He also said some of Nhek Bun Chhay's troops had defected to the KR but he asked for them to be checked out.

Ta Mok was not convinced that Ranariddh and his supporters would be around for a long term fight. "Ranariddh and Nhek Bun Chhay will go back because they are corrupt and feudalistic."

By December the Khmer Rouge were completely disillusioned with Ranariddh and had turned for help elsewhere.

Ta Mok said in a speech on December 21 that Ranariddh had no money and no forces and it was only the Khmer Rouge troops that were holding off the Government soldiers at O'Smach.

"Ranariddh's forces are not fighting and those that remain are thieves, robbers and rapists," he is quoted as saying in the papers.

"We are feeding them with a little help from Thailand and the United States."

He said that he had just returned from Bangkok. He said he went there at the invitation of Hun Sen but did not meet him. Instead he met with Thai officials, who agreed to provide long term aid if the CPP, the opposition and the Khmer Rouge agreed to form a tripartite government.

Ta Mok did not take long to think about the offer: "We accepted immediately."

Seng summarized the new direction at the end of the December meeting. "We must push up the military activities in order to drag their necks into the new changes: the formation of the tri-partite coalition government."

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