Logo of Phnom Penh Post newspaper Phnom Penh Post - Brother enemy No. 1

Brother enemy No. 1

Brother enemy No. 1

A NLONG VENG - The so-called "People's Tribunal" for one of this century's

most notorious and elusive mass murderers began at noon on July 25 in Cambodia's

remote, malaria-ridden jungle near the Thai border.

"Long live! Long live! Long live the new strategy!!!" chanted hundreds

in unison, clenched fists pumping toward the sky. Old artillery pieces and a captured

Russian tank stood near the open air mass meeting hall.

"Crush! Crush! Crush! Pol Pot and his clique!," shouted the crowd on cue,

a chorus of clenched fists striking down in unison toward the ground.

There, in a simple wooden chair, grasping a long bamboo cane and a rattan fan, sat

Pol Pot - the architect of Cambodia's "Killing Fields" - an anguished old

man, frail eyes struggling to focus on no-one, watching his life's vision crumble

in utter, final defeat.

This was how the People's Tribunal began for Pol Pot, long sought by much of the

world for personally orchestrating a reign of terror that left more than a million

human beings dead and many millions more with lives shattered.

The crude podium held a microphone, and crackling loudspeakers, powered by a nearby

car battery lying on the earthen floor, began to spew public denunciation and humiliation

from a series of speakers.

A shocking percentage of the participants stood on crude wooden stumps, sat in home-made

wheelchairs, or were missing eyes, the fruits of revolutionary sacrifice serving

the cause of Pol Pot that had now come to this.

Some were unable to join in the frequent clapping, arms blown off by landmines, as

speaker after speaker denounced Pol Pot.

"Our ultimate goal today is that the international community should understand

that we are no longer Khmer Rouge and not Pol Potists!" roared Ta Neou, the

civilian administror for the 60,000 population under Pol Pot's control until weeks


The carefully orchestrated performance evoked a surrealistic image of a grainy, black

and white film clip from China's cultural revolution. But the message was starkly


"Long live the emergence of the democracy movement!" shouted single crowd

participants, periodically interupting leaders offering carefully crafted lectures

at the microphone. A chorus would repeat the slogan, followed by prolonged applause

by the roughly 500 participants: "Crush!! Crush!! Crush!! Pol Pot and his murderous


Pol Pot sat alone, near three other manacled loyalists. Many in the crowd of women,

children and soldiers seemed more concentrated on the spectacle of the first westerner

they had ever seen than the traumatized old man sitting alone in a chair.

Each speaker, representing a sector of society - the farmer, the intellectual, the

armed forces, women - got up to denounce and humiliate Pol Pot "and his clique".

Pol Pot seemed often close to tears as the vitriol was unleashed. The three younger,

senior army commanders sat silently, in contrast, and had menacing, almost arrogant

expressions, staring coldly and directly in the eyes of a visiting reporter, the

speakers, and members in the crowd. They showed no fear.

The accusations were horrifying. "We have sacrificed everything for the sake

of the movement," Ta Neou said. "Our parents and all of us are children

of peasants and farmers, we have sacrificed everything for the sake of the movement,

but at the end we kill each other."

He was refering to a violent series of purges and counter purges at the very core

of the Khmer Rouge leadership on June 9, which sparked internal turmoil that led

to Pol Pot's final demise six days later.

It was then, having fled through jungles toward the Thai border that Pol Pot finally

surrendered, with only seven people. He was being carried in a green Chinese-issue

army hammock slung on a bamboo pole. With him were his young wife in her 30s, his

12-year-old daughter, a young niece, a handful of bodyguards and the Khmer Rouge

political leader and Prime Minister of their party, Khieu Samphan. Khmer Rouge leaders

say Pol Pot was near death and had to be given oxygen as he was brought back to their

headquarters in a Toyota landcruiser captured from UN peacekeeping forces prior to

the 1993 elections.

And the dispute at the core of the leadership is deeply rooted in the violent coup

in early July that shook Phnom Penh and toppled it's elected first prime minister,

sending Cambodia back into the throes of more strife and suffering that seems to

define this nation of 10 million.

"On the 9th of June at 12:15 am, Pol Pot issued a direct order to take two Toyota

pick-up trucks loaded with 20 to 30 soldiers to kill Mr Son Sen," General Khem

Nguon said in an interview after the People's Tribunal condemned Pol Pot. "The

events that happened in recent weeks are because of problems that occured within

the top leadership of our organization."

The assassination of long-time Defense Minister Son Sen was only the beginning of

a last ditch purge attempt by Pol Pot of a number of senior officials, including

powerful army commander Ta Mok, who has long controlled much of the Khmer Rouge forces

in this area of northern Cambodia, say Khmer Rouge leaders.

It was a final, desperate attempt by Pol Pot to seize control of a movement that

had been rapidly splintering since July 1996, when most of the Khmer Rouge forces

in western Cambodia split from the northern forces here in Anlong Veng.

"In July 1996, Pol Pot sent Ta Mok to western Cambodia to settle the problems

within our organization in that area. But once Ta Mok arrived in that area it was

too late," explained commander Nguon. "The people rejected Pol Pot already

and they rose up against him because the people cannot support Pol Pot's policy."

The defections in the west last August represented nearly half of the Khmer Rouge

forces, including Ieng Sary, the former foreign minister, brother-in-law of Pol Pot

and number four in the Standing Committee.

But the loss of the west only deepened the isolation of Pol Pot and the divisions

within his remaining core leadership.

"Pol Pot accused Ta Mok, Nuon Chea, Son Sen of being unable to settle the problem,"

explained Gen Nguon. "Pol Pot blames Ta Mok, Nuon Chea, and Son Sen for destroying

our areas in western Cambodia.

" So Pol Pot asked Mao - over there," he explained, pointing at a young

Khmer Rouge cadre listening in on the interview, "to shoot Ta Mok and burn him

- last October - to leave no evidence."

The grim-faced young cadre, who looked capable of such a deed, nodded in agreement

with his commander. "Since last October all three have been detained by Pol

Pot and his clique."

While it is unclear what "detained" means, there is little doubt that the

divisions within the core of the top command had become critical.

Pol Pot then recruited the loyalty of senior military field commanders Gen Sarouen

and Gen San and tried to consoldidate power against Ta Mok.

"On the 25th of February 1997, there was a big mass meeting on the new leadership

organization. Pol Pot did it alone without any consultation with the other key leaders,"

contended Gen Nguon. "What Pol Pot tried to do was to bring Saroeun's followers

to replace the existing ones." Sarouen was to be appointed as the chief of staff

of the military to replace Ta Mok and also head political affairs. San was to be

his deputy for military affairs, according to those in control of the area last month.

"So Pol Pot continued to lead our organization toward a black hole," said

Gen Nguon during the interview, surrounded by other top military and political cadre.

"Within Cambodia Pol Pot is rejected! Within the world community Pol Pot is

rejected! There is no way out for us.

"What is the main cause that steered our people to rise up against Pol Pot?

One, the leadership and the grip on power by Pol Pot was so long. All the power was

within his hands. All the decisions were taken alone by him without consultation.

Pol Pot took decisions without even consulting the top leadership!"

Meanwhile, according to both Cambodian government sources and diplomats, it was around

February that a series of secret negotiations accelerated between elements of the

Cambodian government and elements of the Khmer Rouge in Anlong Veng seeking to come

to a political solution, opposed by Pol Pot and often behind his back. Most of these

efforts were conducted by loyalists of Ta Mok and the top Royalist military commander

Gen Nhek Bun Chhay.

By May, a deal in principle to join forces had been agreed between Funcinpec forces

and much of the Khmer Rouge leadership at Anlong Veng, including key political leader

Khieu Samphan along with the forces loyal to Ta Mok. Pol Pot was becoming more isolated.

On the night of June 9 he began an attempt to eliminate his internal opposition to

scuttle the peace deal that would have ended his influence over the organization

he had solidly controlled since he fled to the jungle 35 years before.

"I have been bitterly separated from my relatives by this regime," senior

political minister Tep Kunnal told the People's Tribunal on 25 July, explaining the

events of June 9. "Before I never saw with my own eyes. I have never killed

anyone in my life, but on the 9th of June, 1997, I saw with my own eyes that the

Pol Pot regime is a real murderous regime! Even the small children were not allowed

to live!" Fourteen of Defense Minister Son Sen's relatives, including a five-year-old

child, were shot dead in the early morning hours of July 10 by division commander

Sarouen, according to both Khmer Rouge and foreign intelligence sources.

The killing of Son Sen and all of his family on Pol Pot's orders, sparked a five-day

turmoil where commanders fled in disarray into the jungle, but quickly consolidated

behind Ta Mok, leaving an isolated Pol Pot and his band of about 300 supporters trapped

and eventually captured.

With Pol Pot under detention by June 19 and his loyalists neutralized, the remaining

Khmer Rouge leadership moved rapidly to forge secretly a tactical political and military

alliance with the Royalist faction of Prince Norodom Ranariddh against their common

enemy, the former communist Cambodian People's Party led by Hun Sen.

Finalized plans to give up fighting and formally join a political movement moved


These events preceded the coup d'etat which was fundamentally linked to the developments

within the Khmer Rouge - a struggle between those who wanted a political negotiation

with elements of the ruling government and those who didn't. With final secret negotiations

completed on July 4 at jungle encampments on the northern Thai-Cambodian border guerrilla

stronghold between Funcinpec military head Gen Nhek Bun Chhay, Hun Sen - through

agents he had developed in the area - launched his violent and bloody coup in the

early hours of the next morning.

But regardless of the turmoil that has once again erupted with the July 5 coup, the

events of June here in Anlong Veng effectively mean that the Khmer Rouge as the world

knows them no longer exist.

The leadership in control of the Khmer Rouge when their reign in power ended after

the Vietnamese invaded in late 1978, has now been splintered.

Party supremo Pol Pot has been denounced and is under detention, former Foreign Minister

Ieng Sary is living in rural northwestern Cambodia in a semi-autonomus zone, Defense

Minister Son Sen was killed, and former Prime Minister Khieu Samphan controls no


"Ta Mok is old and in charge in the northern small zone of Anlong Veng, but

in charge of what?" argues professor Stephen Heder of the School of Advanced

International Studies at the University of London. "It no longer makes any sense

whatsoever to call whatever remains a Khmer Rouge movement. Because of the realignment

of forces over the last several years, the concept of a Khmer Rouge movement as we

know it no longer has any meaning."

What is clear is that "every political movement in Cambodia today has in it

so-called Khmer Rouge, whether it be CPP or Funcinpec. What is left of the Khmer

Rouge is not its former mainstream," says Heder.

At the highest levels of both the Royalist Funcinpec party and particularly Hun Sen's

Cambodian Peoples Party, especially in the armed forces, are many former Khmer Rouge

cadre. Both dominant parties "are perfectly prepared to work with people who

committed crimes against humanity - the only criteria is that they work with them

and don't contest their power," says Heder.

"What Hun Sen cannot abide to is not people who committed crimes against humanity,

but of people who won't agree to be under his command," argues Heder, who cites

a number of senior former Khmer Rouge cadre who are allied with Hun Sen today. "He

is only playing the Khmer Rouge card for foreign consumption."

As the People's Tribunal of Anlong Veng trial of Pol Pot continued into its second

hour, the new leaders somberly paced on the outskirts of the crowd, clearly concerned

by the deteriorating health of a now weak and traumatized Pol Pot.

Gen Nguon, whom Pol Pot ordered murdered only eight weeks ago, whispered that "Ta"

was "worsening quickly" as the public humiliation and denouncement started

to come towards a close.

"What the army and the people keep asking from me is that they be allowed to

kill Pol Pot, and Sarouen and San because they had harrassed and killed some of the

army's families and relatives. So, the army feels so bitter and painful with all

of them. You know today nobody was allowed to carry a weapon to this meeting, otherwise

they would have been killed by the mob already. The people are so furious,"

Nguon said.

Guerrilla officials acknowledged that Pol Pot has suffered from serious heart disease,

and had high blood pressure long before the recent events. While the crowds, though

robotic, appeared to be both entertained and awestruck by the event, those that had

overthrown Pol Pot were themselves in anguish, many remaining almost deferential,

and clearly concerned over the implications of what the tribunal had done to their

own lives.

"We have put an end to the leadership that has betrayed our organization and

the people," said Mak Ben, a bespectacled French-educated economist, dressed

in a green Chinese-style military uniform. "They are completely gone and, as

of right now, the Pol Pot regime has ended. On this occasion, we - all the people,

the armed forces, and the cadre - will continue to strengthen under one force following

the new strategy, which is based on the slogan: "Khmer don't kill Khmer!"

Confusion and sadness were etched on the face of Pol Pot's newest enemies, who had

spent almost all of their adult lives struggling under his leadership in these malaria-infested


"Having acknowledged the betrayal of our group in recent months by Pol Pot and

his clique," the loudspeaker roared into the nearby forest, Pol Pot's crimes

were read out. They included the murder of Son Sen, the attempted murder and "detention"

of Ta Mok and Nuon Chea, and "destroying the policy of national reconciliation...

These are the criminal acts and the betrayal of Pol Pot and his clique against the

people, armed forces, and our cadre. In conclusion, we all decide to condemn and

sentence this clique to life imprisonment."

"There is no confusion [over the arrest and sentencing]," said Gen Khem

Nguon later. "There is only people who have asked to kill him. But we did not

agree. We said it is not necessary to kill him. Because he is old, wait a short time

and he will die anyway, die by reaching the end of his life...In fact all the people

asked to sentence him (to death) at the court today, but I said it is not necessary,

not necessary to kill them, let's not have our hands covered in blood. A little longer,

and he is old already, he will die anyways."

Pol Pot was asked permission to be humiliated in front of the tribunal, according

to Nguon. "Pol Pot did himself confess to me clearly, after his arrest. When

I met him the first ime, he embraced me and burst into tears and said 'It is the

right thing, comrade, that this has happened,' and then he cried. It was on June

21, 1997 and he told me ' I am wrong, comrade. All the mistakes were made by me,

alone,' and then he cried. If he did not accept his faults, would Pol Pot have shown

up for photographs like this?

"Pol Pot told me that this is the end of his life, he has nothing left, but

he begged me to allow him to live. I also want to make clear that if Pol Pot was

vested with any credibility or respect, he would not have shown up and let you see

him like you just did today.

"I told him this morning that you were going to be here (to witness his condemnation).

I told him that we want to prove to the world that we no longer want to associate

ourselves with him. Then he consented. They needed to show themselves to the world

too so the world has no more doubt.

"We did tell him this morning that he has to show up in public to disengage

himself from this movement so that people will no longer be confused about him and

his leadership role. No one wants him. And also we want to show to the world that

he is obviously wrong so that we, the rest, can continue our struggle."

"No we are not a 'new Khmer Rouge'. We shouldn't be called Khmer Rouge anymore

because we have destroyed the Khmer Rouge, destroyed Pol Pot and Pol Pot is the head

of the Khmer Rouge. I am not a head of the Khmer Rouge, I - we - are a pure movement

of struggle. I cannot be called Khmer Rouge anymore... And if they still call us

Khmer Rouge, they don't see the results of what we have done in annihilating Pol

Pot. Pol Pot held power for decades and the U.S. couldn't annihilate him, no one

could annihilate him. The Vietnamese could not annihilate him, and I managed to annihilate

him. How can I be called the Khmer Rouge?"

"A reason why I annihilated Pol Pot, the reason why our movement of struggle

annihilated Pol Pot was in order for the international community to see and in order

for the international community to help the movement of the struggle of the Cambodian

people, in combination with other movements, in fighting and opposing Hun Sen and

the Vietnamese.

"Pol Pot himself spoke to me and said ' I am finished. It is over for me. There

is nothing further for me. Just allow me to live'."

The new leadership of the rebel group spoke in almost gentle, respectful terms about

their deposed leader. After the sentence of life imprisonment was passed at the trial,

Pol Pot was helped up, unable to walk unassisted, by a guard in Chinese style military

fatigues. "Get someone under his other arm, get him more help," Gen Nguon

ordered his troops, with a genuinely concerned sad look for a man who had been ordered

killed by Pol Pot weeks before. "Ta is feeling very sick," said Gen Nguon,

patting his heart. "I am worried that he may die from the stress."

Some people respectfully bowed, as if to royalty, to Pol Pot, looking profoundly

anguished, as two soldiers propped him up as he walked 25 meters towards a waiting


"I said what I said with a very heavy heart," said a clearly shaken Tep

Kunnal, as he walked slowly, head bowed, away from the meeting, as if deeply moved

by the event. "It is very, very difficult for me, but it had to be done. Before,

there were two dangers for Cambodia, Pol Pot and the Vietnamese puppet Hun Sen. Now

there is only one."

This reporter asked Kunnal if he could translate some questions for Pol Pot as he

was being led to the car. Upon hearing the questions to be posed, Kunnal balked with

a look of terror on his face: "I cannot ask such questions to the elders. You

must ask them in Khmer yourself. It is better."

Pol Pot, who may never be seen alive again by a foreign journalist, was respectfully

helped into a Toyota Landcruiser with tinted windows, captured booty from the UNTAC

era, and driven off into the jungle.


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