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Logo of Phnom Penh Post newspaper Phnom Penh Post - Senior KR "money-man" keeps silent on finances

Senior KR "money-man" keeps silent on finances

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

learned.

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.

While the

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

operatives.

But since arriving in Phnom Penh, suspicious and frustrated

senior government sources say Lemouth is sharing little that he

knows.

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

government.

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

Rouge.

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.

Thailand's

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

increasingly marginalized.

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

Thai border.

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.

Recent

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."

Diplomats

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

France.

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.

"He's

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

radical faction.

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.

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