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Logo of Phnom Penh Post newspaper Phnom Penh Post - Whither the Khmer Rouge?

Whither the Khmer Rouge?

In the aftermath of U.N. sponsored elections, Khmer Rouge supreme Pol Pot and

his small group of elite collective leadership have hunkered down at a jungle base

near the Thai border to try to salvage what clearly is the biggest blow to the secretive

organization since the Vietnamese invasion left them in tatters 14 years ago. Their

radio has refrained from reaction, repeating broadcasts day after day, and their

embassies, which usually are sent daily updated messages of the leadership's political

line, received no instructions in the wake of the successful polling.

Khmer Rouge sources and other analysts concur that the group is isolated, vulnerable,

and obsessed with a belief that big powers together with the other Cambodian parties

are plotting to deliver a final blow designed to destroy or marginalize the group.

And they may be right. Many foreign analysts believe that the group has become significantly

weaker since the signing of the peace accords in 1991, and that they are militarily

incapable of remobilizing an army sufficient to relaunch another civil war.

A debate continues within the key foreign powers and Cambodian parties over whether

the Khmer Rouge should be offered a seat at the table of a new government or war

should be launched to try to destroy them.

UNTAC military analysts believe that the Khmer Rouge now field less than 15,000 troops,

down from pre-peace accords estimates of more than 30,000. Analysts also say that

the election process undermined their popular base of support and their morale to

return to state of war, making it difficult for the group to attempt to seize control

of more territory.

The election process is the culmination of the KR's worst scenario, which they have

systematically and successfully tried to avoid in recent years-the destruction of

a carefully formed group of domestic and international United Front allies who had

served as their lifeline since their overthrow from power in 1979, and of which they

are now stripped.

"An absolutely imperative premise is a policy of great national solidarity and

of garnering international strength," Pol Pot told cadre in a major policy speech

in late 1988 in which he analyzed the group's strategy for the years ahead.

He said the Khmer Rouge "must preserve international forces which we must time

and time again bring into the greatest possible extent." And without internal

popular support he said, "We won't have any state jobs to do in the villages

and the sub districts, and by the same token we would not have any job to do in the

parliament. Then who would protect our people and who would join our ranks? If this

were the way things were then our ranks would definitely be compelled to and disintegrate

and be completely dispersed," he warned.

But indeed this is essentially the position the Khmer Rouge find themselves today.

By pulling out of the peace process, they made a fundamental miscalculation that

other major players, particularly Prince Sihanouk and their two former guerrillas

allies-the FUNCINPC party and Son Sann's BLDP-would follow suit in the face of government

sponsored electoral violence. Together, the Khmer Rouge hoped, they could form a

strong coalition that would replace elections and form a Sihanouk-led government

in which they were included.

But the return of Prince Sihanouk from exile in Beijing in the days before the election

and the strong showing of FUNCINPEC in the polls despite the government killings

and intimidation of their party workers and supporters, have left the Khmer Rouge

with little leverage. Their strategy that the results of the election would be abandoned

in an atmosphere of violence failed, and has left them with no allies they can rely

on for the first time since 1970.

Their previous alliances which were and remain essential to their survival, are evaporating.

They no longer have the material or political support of the Chinese, who say they

will respect the results of the elections. Other countries, such as the United States

and Western countries who supported the Khmer Rouge-dominated guerrilla coalition

during the Vietnamese occupation, now are focused on how to create a stable government

that can defend itself against a Khmer Rouge threat. And FUNCINPEC, which needed

the Khmer Rouge's military strength during the war against the Vietnamese, now finds

the group a political liability.

In a February 1992 speech to cadre, Pol Pot outlined the dangers of such a scenario.

"Democratic Kampuchea cannot be strong all on its own. When these guys (U.N

and Western powers) strafe everybody else and leave Democratic Kampuchea on its own,

it is possible for Democratic Kampuchea to be weakened. Once that happens, they will

attack Democratic Kampuchea and drag the other forces into joining with Phnom Penh.

It would become an alliance between the West, the (Vietnamese), the contemptible

puppets (Hun Sen), and two of the three parties (FUNCINPEC and Son Sann). If this

were the situation, then the Chinese, the Thais and ASEAN would all accept it whether

they like it or not...That is why we need friends among the three parties until the

day we die and we need (foreign) friends until the day we die," Pol Pot concluded.

The group has made clear what it wants in recent weeks. They support "fully,

unconditionally, and unswervingly" the creation of "four-party provisional

government of national reconciliation with Prince Sihanouk as head of state and prime

minister," as well as "a national reconciliation army made up of the Cambodian

armed forces of the four factions...with Sihanouk as supreme commander," according

to a radio broadcast on May 17, and a similar broadcast on May 29.

Khmer Rouge sources say that they believe Sihanouk will still have to step in coming

months because the election results will not lead to the formation of a stable government.

But if the international community decides to back a government that evolves strictly

from elections, the Khmer Rouge may find themselves the target of an internationally

supported military campaign to destroy them and none of the foreign support that

kept them alive during the last 14 years is in place to protect them. It is this

scenario they are trying to avoid by being part of a national reconciliation army

with Sihanouk as commander in chief.

Khmer Rouge officials say that only by being part of a government coalition will

it be possible to prevent a concerted effort to destroy them. "In the days to

come when the country has been liberated and there is peace, this will be the genesis

of many new problems both domestically and externally," Pol Pot said. "The

situation will be extremely complex and both the enemy and the rest of them will

go all out to eliminate Democratic will only be made impossible for

them to exterminate us if we are in possession of popular strength."

Sources say that Sihanouk still believes that the Khmer Rouge must be included in

a new government in order to avoid a return to conflict, and has sent messages to

the radical faction since the elections to be patient.

Sihanouk is said to be waiting until he is given real influence in coming weeks to

put together proposals that will modify the group's fear of being the target of a

military campaign to crush it.

Despite wishful thinking on the part of the international community, the Khmer Rouge

organization remains essentially intact throughout Cambodia, and they have sufficient

"popular strength" to sustain them.

The have a competent administration and military in the zones they control, economic

self-sufficiency, and no indication of brutality or abuses beyond that which exists

in areas under the control of the other factions.

Regardless of what new government is formed in Phnom Penh, the Khmer Rouge have created

an autonomous zone of control, which they believe can sustain them independent from

a Phnom Penh-based government.

In a message to supporters in March this year obtained by the Post, Pol Pot offered

some rare selfcriticisms. He acknowledged that during their disastrous years in power,

"We were immature and incapable to run a whole country. We were drunk with victory

and incompetent to run the country," he said.

"In 1979, we were on our bed of death. We should have died in 1979. Why didn't

we die? Because even though we made a lot of mistakes, and had many enemies who hated

us, we still had the capacity to draw forces.

"In every situation we have kept the control of the countryside, and that is

the reason we have been able to survive. Our army was completely defeated and dismantled,

but was rebuilt from the countryside. The necessity for us is the countryside, not

communism," he said.

In deed large areas of the countryside remain firmly under Khmer Rouge control, including

areas rich in rice, gems, and timber and safe supply lines to willing Thai commercial

partners that keep the Khmer Rouge coffers healthy. The Khmer Rouge is estimated

to control more than 20 percent of the countryside.

Despite the success of the election turnout, the objectives of the Paris Peace Accord

to create national reconciliation and a political solution among the warring factions

were obviously not achieved. The country is partitioned and the Khmer Rouge firmly

in control of enough of the countryside to sustain the group.

"Between the path for survival and the path for death, we choose the path for

survival," said the Khmer Rouge on 17 May, "Even though there will be many

difficulties and obstacles."



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