I t's taken 18 years, but Ieng Sary last week arrived back in the capital he fled
as Pol Pot's foreign minister. After his Oct 30 press conference, he spoke to Christine
Chaumeau about Pol Pot, Tuol Sleng, Hun Sen and the future of DNUM. The following
is a translation of the interview, conducted in French.
Phnom Penh Post: You came here at the invitation of Hun Sen, and you have explained
that Hun Sen told you what happened in July. You said that you agreed with him that
it was not a coup d'etat. What do you receive in exchange for that?
Ieng Sary: In return, I did not ask for anything. I did not ask for anything.
I just wanted to know the reality of the [July] events. By observing the events from
Pailin, after talking with Ee Chhean and Sok Pheap, I noted that if Nhek Bun Chhay
was continuing to negotiate with Anlong Veng, there were no chances to reach good
Ee Chhean talked to Nhek Bun Chhay and tried to convince him but Nhek Bun Chhay still
wanted to go and negotiate with Khieu Samphan and Anlong Veng. We thought that Pol
Pot still remained [as leader of the KR].
[On July 5 and 6] the government acted in a legal way and according to the Constitution
to resolve the problems. We do not consider those events as a coup d'etat.
And yet the events after Son Sen's death confirm our opinion. Moreover, I did not
understand why Son Sen returned to Anlong Veng. I thought that he would have stayed
in Thailand or elsewhere but never, according to me, should he have gone back to
Anlong Veng. But, in reality, the three went back to Anlong Veng: Ta Mok, Nuon Chea
and Son Sen. And then on June 9 the struggle took place [starting with] Son Sen's
and his family's murder.
Then I understood the atrocity, the hypocritical nature of Pol Pot. Before, we can
forgive because there was confusion and so on. But when he [Pol Pot] can decide to
kill all of Son Sen's family...really it is...I do not understand. In the past, he
was talking with me. We made mistakes. Now we must not do it again. But why didn't
he simply arrest Son Sen? Why did he need to kill those people?
Anlong Veng was divided in two groups. According to the information I have, after
they came back from Samlot, Pol Pot kept those three men - Ta Mok, Nuon Chea and
Son Sen - under house arrest. Ta Mok was really upset because [Anlong Veng] is the
base he created and from there it allowed Pol Pot to lead the movement. But he came
back and he was put under house arrest. I do not know why Pol Pot did it. [Maybe]
on the pretext we are old and we should let the young lead the movement but in fact
[Pol Pot] was still leading it. And then it was Ta Mok's anger. That is according
to what I have learned. But I do not know if Nate Thayer agrees or not. He went there.
What I know is according to the information I heard and according to my knowledge
of the movement from 1950 till today.
Have you met with Khieu Samphan since July?
No, never, never.
Did Ta Mok ask you to help Nhek Bun Chhay?
Ta Mok himself did not ask to meet me, but he said that there were no disagreements
between him and me. He said that there were no reasons for me not to come and see
him because now the house is open to everyone and I can go and see him. I said that
I would go to Anlong Veng under two conditions. First, he should stop cursing Vietnam
because with the Paris Agreements, with the 1993 elections, it creates internal problems.
If you keep on cursing Vietnam it is impossible to stay and live together. The second
thing I asked, to unify the fissures in our nation, you need to stop calling Samdech
Hun Sen a Vietnamese puppet. He [Ta Mok] stopped contacting me. It happened after
Pol Pot was ousted.
We learned that Ee Chhean's troops moved to cut a supply road used by the resistance
between Samlot and Thailand?
It is not true. But in some ways we are not facilitating the access. We are guarding
our borders. We are working [in line] with the opinion of the government.
What is Thailand's position?
I think Thailand is neutral. For humanitarian reasons, it agreed to receive refugees
on its territory. Really, I think that if those camps did not exist, the struggle
would stop. There are cadre coming from Anlong Veng and O'Smach to work with cadre
of [Samlot resistance leaders] Ta Muth and Iem Phan. We intercepted orders coming
from Anlong Veng to Samlot. He [Ta Mok] asked Ta Muth and Iem Phan to attack Route
10. If there is an attack on Route 10, it means an attack on Pailin and we will have
to defend ourselves.
Are you ready to let RCAF troops come through Pailin to reach Samlot?
We do not have autonomous territory. We cannot make any free decisions. It is
up to the government and the Royal army to decide on those issues. But for us, we
think that it does not solve the problem. On the contrary, it only makes things even
more complicated. For example, when Samlot remained anti-government, it is the [Royal
Cambodian Armed Forces] chief of staff from here who came to ask us on September
17, 1996 to help them pacify Samlot... We accomplished our mission but after that
we received a gift (laughs)... We tried to collaborate with the government but on
the contrary the government accuses us of...
What does the government accuse you of?
It does not accuse but it says that we wanted to strengthen our movement to take
over. They are still suspicious and they do not believe us.
How much money do you think the KR have in Anlong Veng?
There is an accumulation of [historic] Chinese aid. Pol Pot has a lot. Personally,
I received [money] from China. And all those things were decided by Pol Pot. He accused
me of taking [the money].
Ta Mok still accuses me of having taken 750 million baht [worth of logs] from Samlot
with tractors, but in reality I am in Pailin and I do not know Samlot.
And Anlong Veng?
There is lots of wood. There are negotiations between the Khmer Rouge and wood
companies. The government had stopped 700 trucks, according to what Samdech Hun Sen
told me yesterday. He said that if they [Thai companies] want to have the trucks
back, they have to stop helping the KR in Anlong Veng.
As the government has financial problems, did it ask for resources from Pailin,
especially from the gem-mining revenues, to support the national budget?
You know the budget for Pailin is not as before. The mines are nearly empty. Today,
the government is helping us. Not much but with some rice and other things....
You do not have enough revenue in Pailin?
In December, we decided to stop distributing rations to the inhabitants. Before
we were buying rice from Thailand to help the inhabitants to live.
Is it true that your Democratic National United Movement is expecting to open
an office in Phnom Penh?
Not yet. Not yet. But if we set up a political party it is a legal obligation
to have the headquarters in Phnom Penh. For a movement it is not really important.
But there are people who misinterpreted [our name] and thought that we wanted to
take over. That is why I said that in December during our congress we will change
the name of the movement. The new name is not yet decided. But the aim is to keep
Did you ask Hun Sen whether you could open an office?
He asked us whether we wanted to take part in the elections. He said that he would
authorize us at once if we wanted. But we do not want to participate in the election,
and we do not want yet to set up a political party. We want to stay as a movement.
So why are you changing the name?
The movement, people have misinterpreted saying the movement has an army and it
is not legal. To be legal, we have to change the name.
During the CPP congress, the CPP said it wanted to set up a coalition government
after the next election.Would you be ready to join such a coalition?
It is still a bit far away. I do not have yet a precise idea. But according to
what Samdech Hun Sen said, even if the CPP wins a majority, it is in favor of a coalition
government. It does not want to rule the country alone because it does not help to
Is it a possibility for some representative of the movement to enter in the coalition
Yes, it is a possibility. The movement is not rigid and each individual has his
Do you think it is necessary for Hun Sen to try and convince you to join this
government as you still hold some influence over part of the territory?
I haven't yet detected his intention. But in reality I came here to encourage
him to keep on democratizing the country rather than to lead it to a dictatorship.
I think that Samdech Hun Sen is a man with lots of feelings. He is very different
from the people of Pol Pot. I've known him since October 22 . I know him through
letters and I come to see him living here in Takhmao. I think that if circumstances
would not force him towards dictatorship, he would like better to lead the country
as a democracy.
But one should not copy the western democracy in our country which has just come
out of war. In Pailin itself, in our movement itself, there is too much liberalism,
too much democracy, which lead to anarchy.
We are in favor of the victory of the legal party. If a party wins the election,
it is because we respect this party and we are supporting it.
You say that Hun Sen is for democracy and does not want to go towards dictatorship.
Do you believe that today there is a place for an opposition?
Today, I do not think yet. But the events, international pressure and the economic
crisis, I think that he [Hun Sen] is a realist also.
Do you think he is ready to allow [self-exiled] people to come back?
Yes, he accepts everyone except the ones who are charged and have to stand trial
Yes, Prince Ranariddh. Because if he [Hun Sen] allows him to come back all that
he [Hun Sen] did becomes illegal.
Have you read Pol Pot's interview?
Not yet. I just got a copy because we cannot find this magazine easily.
In the interview Pol Pot said that he just heard the name of Tuol Sleng in 1979
through the Voice of America. Yourself, did you know of the existence of Tuol Sleng?
No. Really, I did not know. It was as I was going to the UN in 1979, I was asked:
'Why did you create Tuol Sleng?' I said that I never heard about Tuol Sleng because
in the past Tuol Sleng was a place where there is a pagoda near Pochentong. We were
always talking with code names and security was S-21.
Who was in charge of Tuol Sleng?
Whom was he receiving orders from?
Duch was previously with Ta Mok and then Son Sen. It was Son Sen who employed
him in security.
There are [Tuol Sleng] documents with [KR] signatures on them. How can we believe
Pol Pot? How can we believe you?
At that time we are talking about S-21 and not Tuol Sleng.
But you knew the existence of S-21?
Yes, I knew. But I was not in charge of this issue. My mission was to go abroad
and each time I came back, I always wondered whether I would go back to my office
or go to S-21 because at that time we did not know anything. Even as a leader I did
Who gave orders to S-21?
For the political things like that, Khieu Samphan. And Khieu Samphan, as you know
already, he always asked for Pol Pot's opinion. When Pol Pot fled in June, Khieu
Samphan was not forced [to follow him]. He was voluntarily with Pol Pot.
Ta Mok is obviously in charge of Anlong Veng now. Do you think that we can trust
him more than Pol Pot?
I do not think so. He is against intellectuals. Personally, I am very gentle with
him. During the three years [of the Pol Pot regime], when he saw my people going
around guiding foreigners [on official visits], Ta Mok said that they were useless.
Why did you wait until 1996 to break with Pol Pot and Ta Mok?
Personally, I did not break with them. It is they who threw me away. I worked
with them. They had already isolated me. I remained united because as students we
were participating in the ideas of finding justice for society. I did not want to
see internal quarrels. But it is they who threw me away. People in Malai and Pailin
asked me to come back and lead the movement. It is they who throw me away. I did
not break away. I cannot go back on my words.
What are your impressions about Phnom Penh today?
In 1963, I left the city during the Sangkum Reastr Niyum. At that time it was
not great but the town was livable. Politically, I was against the decision of leaving
[the parliamentary struggle] to go into the jungle. I had an argument with Pol Pot
. I said it was a bad decision. We still had the means to struggle politically in
the city. But I think that if he wanted to lead he had to go into the countryside.
But I thought that the town was still a good place for the political struggle.
Today, I think that there are too many cars in the city but you can feel hope in
the town, the hope that the town is not dead.
Did you fear to come back?
No. Because there are lots of people [from Pailin and Malai] who came and met
Hun Sen. I did not think about any demonstrations or any problems for my security.
The places you wanted to come back to?
I wanted to see again the Lycée Sisowath where I stayed seven years in
boarding school. There are lots of memories there. But we did not have much time
to see because it was in a car. But I found the town much different than what it
was in 1975.
Better or worse?
At that time I came back from Beijing. As I came back, I found the streets were
deserted, the houses were emptied. Those things shocked me. I have the impression
that for now there are too many cars - more than in 1963. There are signs that the
town is not dead.
Last night I went to Chroy Changvar to have dinner. Chinese people are running the
restaurants like in 1963. The difference is that at that time the waitresses were
Chinese or Vietnamese but [yesterday] they were Cambodians.