A SENIOR Khmer Rouge political official has quietly defected to Phnom Penh,
bringing with him a wealth of rare information about the state of the leadership
of the secretive organization.
Sar Kim Lemouth, who was in charge of
finances for the Khmer Rouge and the highest ranking defector since the Khmer
Rouge were ousted from power in 1979, left the Khmer Rouge jungle headquarters
near the Thai border in November and is in Phnom Penh, the Post has
But he has refused government requests that he make a public
announcement of his defection, and suspicious Cambodian government officials say
he has been less than cooperative with government interrogators. Foreign
embassies have been denied repeated requests to meet the leader.
Nevertheless, those who have talked to him in Phnom Penh, including
other Khmer Rouge defectors, say that he paints a picture of a demoralized
leadership lacking cash, ammunition, and suffering from a halt in covert Thai
assistance that has crippled the organization in key ways.
Khmer Rouge have been hit hard by low level military defectors in recent months,
little is known about the current thinking and state of the top leadership in
what intelligence analysts say is one of the most successfully secret
organizations in the world.
Both Cambodian government and Khmer Rouge
sources confirm that Lemouth walked out of the jungle after securing an
agreement with the government for safe passage. Cambodian government sources
confirm Lemouth demanded that his defection not be coordinated through the
government army, which he contended was riddled with Khmer Rouge
But since arriving in Phnom Penh, suspicious and frustrated
senior government sources say Lemouth is sharing little that he
Sources close to the Khmer Rouge say that Lemouth likely left with
the permission of Pol Pot, joining a growing list of intellectuals who have
quietly left the radical faction in recent years. They say that Lemouth will
likely not do anything to harm the Khmer Rouge, is not sympathetic with the
government, and is unlikely to spill important secrets to the Cambodian
According to sources close to the Khmer Rouge, Thailand
recently informed the faction that in the event of a government military
offensive this year, Thailand will not let Khmer Rouge fighters or civilians
cross the border for sanctuary. "Intellectuals are fearful they cannot escape,
and will have no where to flee," said one source close to the Khmer
A number of senior political cadre, mostly intellectuals who
served in diplomatic posts around the world until last year, are now forced to
live under difficult jungle conditions. Several have had to pull their children
out of foreign schools to return to the malarial and land mine infested jungles
after Khmer Rouge embassies were shut down last year.
crackdown on support for the group also has made life difficult for many Khmer
Rouge leaders who were used to free access to Thailand, before living in villas
at secret bases there.
For the hard-core jungle fighters the transition
since the Thai crackdown has been much easier than for many of the diplomatic
elites. Some have moved from diplomatic compounds in the west to jungle huts now
under attack from government forces.
But while Lemouth, a French
educated economist who joined the Khmer Rouge in the early 1970s, has refused to
give important details of Khmer Rouge bank accounts and assets, he has painted a
picture of an organization confused and without direction, according to those
who have spoken with him in recent weeks. Importantly he spoke of a rise in
influence of hardline military elements favoring armed struggle, with moderate
elements who had negotiated the signing of the Paris Peace Accords in 1991
According to both government sources and
others who have met him in Phnom Penh, Lemouth says that the Khmer Rouge are now
desperately short of money and ammunition and that the Thai policy to refuse
assistance to them has deeply isolated the group, hindering communications,
logistics and supplies to the string of jungle bases along the 800 kilometer
Diplomatic sources say that Lemouth paints a picture that
is consistent with sketchy intelligence that the Thai crackdown has severely
affected the group.
Khmer Rouge radio has been broadcasting considerably
more virulent messages in recent months that analysts say represent a policy
shift away from a political solution and a return to warfare.
changes in their official radio broadcasts calling for people to make "pungi
sticks" indicate ammunition problems, and increased terrorism and a new
political line calling for assassination of village leaders and burning down
villages represent new and increasingly desperate tactics that abandon a
previous hearts and minds strategy and indicate "policy confusion" at the top,
according to some analysts.
Lemouth spoke of a hierarchy isolated and
demoralized, with Pol Pot and military commander Ta Mok in firm control over the
organization. He said that both Ieng Sary, the former Foreign Minister, and Nuon
Chea, the Khmer Rouge chief theoretician and number two on the standing
committee, are very sick and no longer active.
Khmer Rouge nominal
President Khieu Samphan lacks any real influence now that the Khmer Rouge have
effectively abandoned political dialogue and returned to guerrilla warfare, he
told one interviewer in Phnom Penh.
"We are not talking anymore about a
political solution, only armed struggle," he was quoted as telling government
debriefers, "but nobody believes anymore about armed struggle."
and intelligence analysts in Phnom Penh say that the influence of a group of
about ten intellectuals that remain in the jungle is waning, and that hard-line
military commanders are in control.
At least 14 intellectuals have
quietly left the Khmer Rouge since the 1980's, most living quietly in exile in
But what the Cambodian government wants most to know are the
whereabouts and system of Khmer Rouge assets and Lemouth remains closed mouth.
As chief of the organizations finances, he is said to know where the Khmer Rouge
assets are. They are said to have bank accounts in Beijing, Hong Kong,
Switzerland, and Bangkok, but Lemouth has claimed ignorance and says the
organization is virtually broke, according to his interrogators.
lying to us," said one senior government official. Other sources close to the
Khmer Rouge say they believe the Khmer Rouge still have millions of dollars
secreted in banks.
Also interested are a number of foreign governments,
which would likely push to freeze any assets and bank accounts that could be
located. Such a move, on top of the crackdown by Thailand on aiding the group,
would be a potent tool to cripple the organization.
But while life is
increasingly difficult for the Khmer Rouge and particularly for intellectual
political cadre, some analysts say that it is much too early to count out the
Many of the cadre have lived in the jungle their entire
lives. Pol Pot and others fled to the jungle in 1963 where, except for their
three and a half years in power in the late 1970s, he has remained.
While more than 2,000 Khmer Rouge rank and file soldiers have defected
in recent months, mostly tired of war and life in the jungle, they are primarily
from fringe areas with tenuous connections to leadership while hardcore military
at the safer rear.