DISPROVING reports of his death, former communist party chief Pen Sovann emerged
from more than a month of hiding to leave Cambodia Aug 22.
"I hid in many places, moving every two or three days," he said about his
life since the July 5 -6 fighting, after arriving at Pochentong Airport.
Accompanied to the airport by human rights workers and staff of the Australian and
United States embassies, Sovann flew to Kuala Lumpur. He said he planned to visit
the US, France and the UK, but would not seek political asylum because he wanted
to return to Cambodia.
"I am not afraid, but the people are afraid and worried that I could be killed,"
he said of his departure.
Sovann, 62, had earlier been reported by human rights workers as missing, possibly
murdered. He is understood to have made contact with a human rights group from hiding,
seeking help to leave the country. His departure was delayed while rights workers
and embassies sought travel documents for him, as his passport had been lost in looting
of his house.
Sovann's military career began as a Khmer Issarak guerrilla fighting against the
French colonial administration. He joined the Communist Party of Indochina in 1951,
serving as bodyguard and secretary to Ta Mok, the current Khmer Rouge military commander.
After attending cadre training school in Vietnam, Sovann returned to Cambodia in
1970, rallying to the anti-Lon Nol resistance cause, before going back to Vietnam
He returned to Cambodia with the Vietnamese invading forces in late 1978 and rose
to power in the Vietnam-installed government. In July 1981 he was made head of government,
a reign that lasted only six months. He was arrested - supposedly for being anti-Vietnamese
- and spent seven years in a Hanoi prison and three more under house arrest.
Permitted to return to Cambodia in 1992, Sovann reentered Cambodian politics in April
At several Funcinpec-supported press conferences, he expressed strong criticism of
Hun Sen and claimed that his newly-formed Cambodian National Supporting Party would
attract CPP members.
At his departure Aug 22, Sovann said that he would return to prepare his party for
the next elections.
Hun Sen, in a television speech the same day, expressed surprise that the United
States and France would receive Sovann, as he was a "Khmer Viet-Minh" and
a former communist. "If the United States gets a communist leader, it is good,"
Hun Sen said sarcastically.