"ET s'il était à refaire
Je referais ce chemin..."
[And if it had to be done again
I would go back the same way...]
A fter 40 years' reflection, Suong Sikoeun - a man who probably knows Ieng Sary better
than anyone - now reverses the sentiments of the famous French poet Aragon.
"And if it had to be done again," he says, "I would not go back the
Sikoeun talks carefully. He takes his time to select the correct word in perfect
French, relaxing after initially hiding himself from journalists visiting Malai.
He asks the gathering crowd to provide food and drinks, and starts speaking with
an inevitable Coke can in his hand.
"I have been a Khmer Rouge for 30 years. Today, I am no more.
"I read a lot. I thought a lot. The struggle of class is harmful for Cambodia.
This notion is not at all Cambodian, " he says.
"I would rather be a Sihanoukist. I think that Socialist Buddhism is rather
adaptable to the Khmer society."
This month is the 40th anniversary of Sikoeun's working relationship with Ieng Sary.
"The time goes fast," he says.
Sikoeun's father died in 1937 when his son was three months old. He stayed on the
edges of Kompong Cham and Kratie provinces with his mother, working in the rice field.
"My uncle was leader of commune and he was from the Liberal party. I was among
the democrats. We were in opposing forces," he says.
"When I was 16 I cycled from Kompong Cham to Kompong Thom to deliver weapons
and military devices," he says of 1953, his time in the Khmer Issarak of Son
Ngoc Than, fighting against the French occupation.
That year he was arrested and condemned to twenty years hard labor. His sentenced
was quashed a year later by the Geneva agreement that ended the French war in Vietnam.
Occasionally, Sikoeun translates in Khmer to let the neighbors gathered around him
understand what Cambodia was like in the fifties.
"At the school in Kompong Cham, I was much influenced by the French Revolution
and especially Robespierre [one of the most "hardline" republican French
revolutionaries]. There was only one step from that to be a communist," he says.
"Robespierre is my hero. Robespierre and Pol Pot; the two men have the same
quality of determination and integrity."
Sikoeun wanted to follow his studies in Battambang but was not allowed to attend
secondary school there because of his political past.
He therefore entered a new private school in Phnom Penh called Kampuchea Botr. The
school was funded by "progressive" teachers returning from France, among
them later Ieng Sary and Khieu Samphan. Such people taught there, said one former
school official, "to cover with legality their real activities".
At that time Sikoeun was also working for the newspaper Ekapheap, a paper that voiced
the ideals of the Democrat party.
After one year in Kampuchea Botr, Sikoeun entered the Lycée Sisowath. In a
students' union building he met Ieng Sary.
"A night at the end of 1956, on the first floor, I saw a tall man. It was already
cold in France [from where Sary had recently returned] and his face was very red.
I was surprised," says Sikoeun.
Sikoeun, who had some months before heard about a Marxist study group in Phnom Penh
and had asked to join, was told by Sary that the group had agreed to his request.
From that time on the two men worked together.
Sary asked Sikoeun to deliver a message to Samphan when Sikoeun left for Paris at
the end of 1957. "In Paris, Khieu Samphan looked after me, but still I remain
mainly influenced by Sary."
During his time in Paris, Sikoeun was the chairman of the Marxist group of students
inside the Cambodian students' boarding house.
There he met Laurence Picq during a summer camp organized by the French Communist
party in the west of France in 1967. Just three months after they were married in
a suburb of Paris.
Laurence followed Sikoeun when he was sent to Beijing in 1970. Later that year Sary
arrived in China as the special envoy of the interior "local" part of the
Cambodian resistance. One year later, Sikoeun became an official member of the Cambodian
communist party, a secret induction as at that time nobody officially knew the existence
of the Party.
After the Khmer Rouge - more correctly, Democratic Kampuchea - captured Phnom Penh
in 1975 from Lon Nol, Sikoeun worked with Sary in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs.
Picq joined him with their two daughters that autumn. She lived in B1 camp under
Sary's responsibility. After she returned to France in 1980, Picq wrote an extremely
critical book about her life during the Khmer Rouge in Phnom Penh.
"I understand all the sufferings Laurence had to endure but we had been led
to the maelstrom of the Khmer Rouge revolution," Sikoeun says.
"I did not live through the French Revolution but relatively speaking, the Khmer
Rouge revolution can be compared with it."
Sikoeun remarried in 1988 and now has a son, Seila. He has lived in Phnom Malai since
"I came back from Beijing the same day as the King [came back to Phnom Penh].
On the morning I accompanied him to the plane to Phnom Penh and I took a flight to
Bangkok and came straight here.
"Now that I am retired, I am thinking of following the example of the general
secretary of the Philippines Communist party and start my doctorate studies again.
I got my Masters degree in 1968 in Paris on the reform of the agricultural structures
in Prey Veng and Svay Rieng."