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Logo of Phnom Penh Post newspaper Phnom Penh Post - Trial might shed light

Trial might shed light

Your recent article describing the "re-education" and disappearance of

Prince Naradipo reopens a number of questions concerning the fate of children and

grandchildren of King Sihanouk, as well as other non-Communist personalities associated

with him through their membership in the Royal Government of National Union of Kampuchea

(GRUNK) and the National United Front of Kampuchea (FUNK), which Sihanouk headed

from 1970 through 1975.

It has been widely asserted and presumed that these non-Communists, who were allowed

to return to Cambodia after the Communist Party of Kampuchea seized power in April

1975, were invited back to be killed, and that, similarly, Prince Naradipo and other

offspring of Sihanouk were separated from him in order to be killed.

Your article's recounting of what happened to Naradipo, however, appears to confirm

the account given in the "confessions" of the cadre mentioned in it, Cho

Chhan, alias Sreng, the Deputy Secretary of the Communist Party's North Zone, who

was, as your article notes, arrested in early 1977.

According to Sreng's "confessions", "the Organization's policy"

up until the time of his arrest had been to keep "a number of members of the

Royal Family," including specifically Naradipo, alive. Also to be exempted from

the Party's general policy of "smashing" military officers, policemen,

military police and "reactionary" civil servants of the old regime were

two close political associates of Sihanouk who had attempted to prevent the coup

that had overthrown him in 1970: Ung Hong Sath and Y Tuy.

As Laura Summers at the University of Hull has recalled, these "loyal Sihanoukists"

had remained in Phnom Penh after the coup and tried to find a way of ending the civil

war and bringing Sihanouk back into power. They were kept alive after being evacuated

in 1975 to the North Zone. Also kept alive, albeit in "re-education" camps

or while undergoing heavy labour, were most of the non-Communist members of GRUNK

and FUNK who had returned to Cambodia from Beijing, Paris and other places of exile.

Kept alive that is, until late 1976 or early 1977, when many suffered the same fate

as Naradipo, Ung Hong Sath, Y Tuy and others who were swept out of their re-education

camps and killed, at the same time that Sreng and many Party members who like him

were considered "petty bourgeois intellectuals" were also arrested and

executed.

Did all of this reflect a preconceived plan, worked out shortly before or shortly

after April 1975? Evidently not. Instead, starting in late 1976, "the Organization's"

policy changed in a way that greatly increased the pace of killings. Why did it change?

It seems to have changed because the Organization's other policies were failing:

on the economic and many other fronts, the revolution had clearly gone terribly wrong.

The Organization apparently needed scapegoats and wanted to preempt the coalescence

of widespread but atomized opposition inside and outside of Communist ranks.

However, neither Sreng's "confessions" nor other documents so far available

make clear exactly who in "the Organization" made this decision, how widely

it was disseminated or to what extent it was implemented through units other than

S-21 (Tuol Sleng). Claims by Ieng Sary and assertions made about Khieu Samphan that

they were out of this decision-making loop cannot be proved or disproved by the existing

documentary trail.

Perhaps a proper and fair trial of them and other "senior Khmer Rouge"

would reveal whether they are as deeply implicated in such matters as Pol Pot, Nuon

Chea, Son Sen and Duch.

A less than fair trial, however, probably would leave such questions with only highly

unsatisfactory answers.

Steve Heder, School of Oriental and African Studies, London

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