Nhek Bun Chhay spoke to Jason Barber at Phnom Pov April 30, and again three days later. The following is an edited transcript of the two interviews.
Post: You recently met with US congressman Dana Rohrabacher. What did he say to you?
Nhek Bun Chhay: He came here firstly to visit us as the fighters for democracy. Secondly, he wanted clarification because there are some people in the United States who say that I have only 50 soldiers. When he was here, he saw about 500 soldiers at this place, and there were about 900 in O'Smach. He extended his best wishes to the soldiers. He said he always supports those who struggle for democracy against the dictatorial regime.
Do you want to visit the US to seek support?
That's true. Firstly, to seek support from the Khmer people living in the US as well as in France, Japan and Australia. Secondly, I want to inform Congress and the people who work for the US government of the coup in July and also to clarify the truth, because I am always accused of having no soldiers or that the soldiers with me are Khmer Rouge. Such accusations let the world misunderstand and some countries seem to abandon us.
Where do you get your supplies from? Is it difficult for you to get food, medicine, ammunition?
Some from the soldiers inside [Cambodia] and some from the people outside. Khmers in the United States, Britain, Australia, France. Ammunition comes from inside, from soldiers. Sometimes I give them some money. If Hun Sen's troops have ammunition, I have ammunition [laughs]. Some of Hun Sen's troops like me. When I came from Phnom Penh to the border [after the July 5-6 fighting], they helped me. Now, they help with ammunition.
Are you satisfied with the progress of the Japanese peace plan or not?
I am not happy but I have no choice. Only the third and the fourth [points] of the Japanese plan are resolved. I think if the first and second points are not solved [including reintegration of his troops], then the Japanese proposal is nonsense.
You believe that the amnesty granted to Prince Ranariddh should have included yourself and [fellow convicted resistance commander] Serey Kosal?
Yes. In fact it was Hun Sen who staged a coup. But, for example, if it was Samdech Krom Preah [Ranariddh] who had staged a coup, why can the coup leader be granted amnesty when his followers cannot? It is not reasonable in any country. If the leaders shall be punished, the followers just followed their orders.
You believe that Funcinpec should have insisted on an amnesty for Prince Ranariddh, yourself and Serey Kosal at the same time?
Yes. They should have.
If you are not granted amnesty and your forces are not reintegrated into RCAF, do you think that a free and fair election can be held?
Even if the election is held, there will be difficulties. If Hun Sen loses the election, he will not give up power.
What do you think about the international community and the European Union's support for the elections?
Some countries do not think the election will be free and fair, while some other countries think it can be. I don't believe that the election will be free and fair. Firstly, the UN has no role in the election. Secondly, no perpetrators of killing have been arrested and brought to justice so the killing will continue as you have seen recently in Takeo. Thirdly, the militia forces are still threatening people everywhere to vote for Hun Sen. The election committee with 11 members belongs to Hun Sen, and I believe that Hun Sen may threaten these 11 people to declare that Hun Sen won the election. Another issue is the Vietnamese people in Cambodia. During the election in 1993, there were four million Vietnamese in Cambodia, now there are six million. They will vote.
Do you think you will get an amnesty before the elections?
No, Hun Sen [offered] me a lot of money to join him. I don't want it. Some people from Hun Sen came to see me, once before the coup and once after. He sent Pol Saroeun to ask me to go back to Cambodia, to get some post and some money and support. I said I cannot. If I join Hun Sen, the royalists are finished. The monarchy is finished; Hun Sen wants to destroy it. My name would be written in history for this. Now he tries other secret strategies. This week, when Hun Sen comes to Thailand, he will ask the Thai government to arrest me.
Are you frightened of that?
No, because the government of Phnom Penh is not legal. The Thai government still recognizes Ranariddh as the First Prime Minister. If the government didn't recognize Ranariddh as the First Prime Minister, then I would have a problem.
I don't believe Hun Sen will give me an amnesty. Hun Sen needs to destroy all former Funcinpec soldiers. The forces who used to struggle before [in the 1980s] have been destroyed and now Hun Sen is luring the Khmer Rouge, which is his old partner. Hun Sen, Chea Sim, Heng Samrin, Tea Banh, Pol Saroeun are former Khmer Rouge. Now Ieng Sary defected to Hun Sen and Anlong Veng under Ke Pauk joined him. So the Khmer Rouge are combining. That is a great concern for Cambodia. The forces which are still strong are the KR forces and the communist forces of Hun Sen.
You, too, are accused of cooperating with the Khmer Rouge from Anlong Veng?
Up to today, there is not a single Khmer Rouge with me. There are more than 2,000 Khmer Rouge who have asked to join with us but I have not yet decided to accept them... because I want the soldiers to solve the problem with Ta Mok. Ta Mok does not want them to join us. If I accept them, it might be misunderstood that I cooperate with Ta Mok. So we have to wait and we will hold a proper defection ceremony, so the world will know. The public will see who cooperates with the Khmer Rouge and who does not. At this stage, it is Hun Sen who does.
Why do they want to join you?
Because these people don't want to join Hun Sen as they think that Hun Sen is a yuon [Vietnamese] and a dictator. [But] the soldiers don't like Ta Mok because he is very strict like a communist. There is no market, no temple. People and soldiers cannot smoke cigarettes, drink alcohol or use msg, listen to radio, watch TV, or have private vehicles.
Who is the leader of Anlong Veng? Ta Mok still?
Yes, Ta Mok. And Khem Nguon [Mok's chief of staff]. But the people do not like Ta Mok. And some commanders, Them and Saroeun, want to join us. They feel that the Khmer Rouge is finished.
What do you think Ta Mok wants to do, keep fighting under the name of the Khmer Rouge?
Yes. He is near Mountain 200. He has some troops [loyal to him], but only 150 troops. It's not enough.
Have you spoken to him?
No, I cannot say anything to him. I could send a message but the people advise me not to, because he has not changed his thinking, a lot of his commanders tell me... [like] Them.
What does [Them] say about Ta Mok?
What we know is two or three days ago, Ta Mok, Khieu Samphan, Nuon Chea contacted [Minister of Defense] Tea Banh. What we know is that the government is willing to receive only Khieu Samphan and Nuon Chea but not Ta Mok... I think this is very good. I want Khieu Samphan and Nuon Chea to join Hun Sen. It is good for me. Khmer Rouge and Khmer Rouge, you know? I will not accept Khieu Samphan, Nuon Chea, Ta Mok - only the lower levels.
What do you know about what Khieu Samphan wants from the government?
He wants to set up a political party, and to join the election. Before the coup, I went to Anlong Veng to meet Khieu Samphan but my boss [Rana-riddh] never met Khieu Samphan. And Khieu Samphan wants to form a political party.... As I know, some people in Samlot, Malai and Pailin still like Khieu Samphan.
You have said that Sok Pheap from Malai is helping to negotiate?
I know that last week Ieng Sary sent Sok Pheap and his son, Ieng Vuth, to see Ta Mok, Khieu Samphan, Nuon Chea to ask them to join Hun Sen. Sok Pheap and Ieng Vuth are now back in Malai.
If Ta Mok wants to join your resistance, not as a commander but at a lower level, is that possible?
No. I cannot receive Ta Mok. For at least the [past] four or five years, Ta Mok has killed a lot of people in Anlong Veng. Maybe 200. And the two Belgians [who disappeared near the Thai border in 1995] and [British deminer] Christopher Howes.
So now the big problem is what happens to Ta Mok?
Maybe he will be arrested by Them, or by Saroeun. There are two possibilities for Mok: one is that Hun Sen will arrest him. Secondly, he will die at the border. Ta Mok killed a lot of people in Anlong Veng, so their families are angry.
The United States and other countries, maybe they want you to help. Have you been asked to cooperate in the capture of Ta Mok?
Yes...[But] I cannot talk. There may be some problem, you know. The US, and the UN also, want to arrest Ta Mok and the Khmer Rouge, but China doesn't support that.
And Thailand is also very important if Ta Mok is to be arrested. Do you think that Thailand wants Ta Mok to go on trial or not?
No comment, no comment [laughs].
Ta Mok is a rich man. Do you think he could just disappear?
Yes, he has some money so he can do that... [to] China, Thailand or another country, I don't know.
But you are happy to receive [Ta Mok commanders] Them, Kong, Saroeun and their troops?
Yes, if they cannot join us, they will go to join with Hun Sen. So, OK, let them join with us.
Some people will say that Them is a killer, and Saroeun...?
I know very well that the bad man is Khem Nguon. After Son Sen died, he was the top leader of the military. I asked a lot of people in Anlong Veng. They told me that 200 people were killed in Anlong Veng by Nguon, with Ta Mok in charge above him.
If the KR defect to you, will you stay in O'Smach or move your forces to try to recapture Anlong Veng in the rainy season?
I cannot move my troops from O'Smach to Anlong Veng. The two thousand troops can take Anlong Veng [without help]. We will allow those troops to capture it. I have some troops east of Anlong Veng, near Preah Vihear temple. They can be used around Preah Vihear province, and 500 soldiers from Kulen Mountain.
If the last of the KR troops defect to you, and you capture Anlong Veng, will this give you more power to negotiate with Hun Sen for reintegration?
No, Hun Sen doesn't want that way. He wants to fight. He is strong. Hun Sen will be the leader of the new Khmer Rouge [laughs].
If there are negotiations over reintegration of your troops, would you ask that any former KR who have defected to you should also be reintegrated?
Many people will say that you are the leader of the new KR. Why should they believe that the Khmer Rouge has defected to you, that the Khmer Rouge is not still the Khmer Rouge?
Some troops of the Khmer Rouge join with Hun Sen and the Vietnamese. Some people in the Khmer Rouge do not like Hun Sen or the Vietnamese. They want to join with us.
People will say that the Khmer Rouge may very soon be completely finished, unless some of them join you and keep the movement alive?
No, not finished. The border is finished, but inside Cambodia, Phnom Penh, Pailin, Malai, there are a lot of Khmer Rouge. The Khmer Rouge gain strength inside the country. It's very, very dangerous. It's more dangerous than if they are in the jungle. The tiger can walk anywhere in the town. The leaders of the KR have a lot of money. In Phnom Penh, they can buy guns, medicine, you know. The KR change their strategy to go inside.
You think that Pailin and Malai are still dangerous?
Pailin, Malai, Phnom Dei, Samlot, they still listen to Khieu Samphan. Some of them change their ideas because of money from Hun Sen, but 90% do not change their strategy.
The Chinese appreciate the KR's change in strategy, to go inside, to join Hun Sen. The Chinese don't want Cambodia to join ASEAN. Who is ASEAN? They fear that is the Americans [laughs].
If Cambodia joins ASEAN, the Chinese are finished in this area. If there is no King, who will replace him for the Chinese? Prince Ranariddh? No. China is forced to give support to Hun Sen.
One day I hope that the KR kill Hun Sen and take power. I hope.
You think they will be better than Hun Sen?
[If KR forces join you], under the election law, this can be used to stop Ranariddh from standing in the election?
[Laughs]. Article 6 of the election law provides that political parties shall not have armed forces. Hun Sen, the vice-president of a party, he has got troops. So Samdech Krom Preah Prince Ranariddh can resign from his position as co-commander in chief [of RCAF] but Hun Sen would have to do the same.
As I have said, my armed forces do not belong to any political party but are RCAF. I receive orders from Prince Ranariddh as co-commander in chief of RCAF, not the chief of a political party.
So if the Prince resigned as the co-commander in chief, he will no longer have any involvement with the military. I say this, but it does not mean I will stage a coup to overthrow the Prince [laughs].
Can I ask you about Pol Pot. Just before he died, do you believe the KR were really going to hand him over to an international tribunal or not?
No. China, no. Thailand, no. Ta Mok, no. Hun Sen, no. Even Hun Sen... did not want Pol Pot to be sent to an international tribunal.