Logo of Phnom Penh Post newspaper Phnom Penh Post - Defector program big success for government

Defector program big success for government

Defector program big success for government

The Government's defector program has achieved all - if not more - than anyone

hoped, but the sheer numbers have created a new set of problems. Michael

Hayes reports.

THE dry season has always been fruitful for

governments in Phnom Penh during the now decades-long struggle with the Khmer

Rouge. But this one is providing a particularly rich harvest as hundreds of

rebel defectors pour out of the jungles all over the country to give up the


Since early 1994, almost 7000 guerrilla soldiers and local

militia are reported to have been captured, forced to surrender from military

pressure or have simply walked in to Royal Cambodian Armed Forces (RCAF)

outposts to lay down their aging and often times rusty weapons. New arrivals are

coming in daily.

While the numbers are extremely difficult to verify and,

in fact, some of the earliest defectors have since returned to the jungle as a

result of the government's initial mishandling of its defector program,

observers now agree that the carrot and stick approach used to deal with the KR

is producing what appears to be a major victory for the government.


think (the defector program) is working," said Australian Ambassador Tony Kevin

on Jan 6, "and that Khmer Rouge strength is being reduced."


Kevin estimated that only 25 to 50 percent of the defectors to date were

"trained soldiers" with the rest being porters, forced conscripts or villagers

who through no fault of their own had come under KR control.

An American

diplomat said that the program to lure KR out of the jungle was "increasingly

effective" and that "the early problems seem to have been resolved."


added that he had "been impressed for over nine months with how freely the

government was treating the defectors," and that he "hadn't heard of any

coercion on the government side."

Buttressed by a six month amnesty

program due to expire on January 15, the government is using a mixed approach to

entice cadre to cross over. Thousands of leaflets have been dropped from

helicopters over Khmer Rouge controlled villages. Radio appeals are also

broadcast regularly on the government network.

Some of the earliest

defectors have been rushed through reintegration programs and sent back home to

encourage friends and relatives to cross over. According to Major General Tep

Vichet, Deputy chief of the Ministry of Defense's Fifth Bureau in charge of

Psychological Warfare, at the Dei Eth camp south of Phnom Penh, defectors have

been given courses in human rights and have gone through seminars where the

freedoms of a "democratic" society are explained.

They have been

instructed in the basic mechanics of what a market economy means, and even taken

to Buddhist temples where they spend time cleaning pagodas.

"They are

very scared because they don't trust us," said Vichet. "They worry about their

own property. But we re-emphasize the commitment not to take their property. We

show them the difference between democracy and communism, that there are markets

and that they can do what they want. We also use polite words."

Of the

more than 2000 defectors the government says have now joined the RCAF - after

being given a new uniform and their equivalent rank - many have been re-armed

and sent back to the front lines to assist the military in coaxing former

comrades to join them.

Equally important, according to defectors, is a

recent directive from the KR leadership ordering cadre to engage in what amounts

to a "scorched earth" policy.

"I can't believe (the KR) now because they

tell us to burn houses, kill buffalo and kill villagers," said Moung Seng, 48,

who defected on December 30 in Siem Reap province from KR Div 912 with 40 cadre

under his command. Seng said that three of his relatives had been killed by the

KR and that he would now go back to his district to "bring more friends" over to

the government side.

At a ceremony on January 1 in Angkor Chum district

40km northwest of Siem Reap city, where around 200 cadre presented their weapons

to Fourth Military Region commander Gen Khann Savoern, the story was basically

the same. Looking bedraggled, hungry and scared, most defectors said they wanted

to join the RCAF and go back to their villages. While they said they were tired

of fighting, having a gun in their hands was the best way to protect themselves

and family members from KR retribution.

Fourth Military Region Deputy

Chief of Staff Gen Nhek Bun Chhay told the Post that in recent months over 800

houses had been burned down by the KR in Siem Reap province.

A Western

aid official in the province said that due to the disastrous rice harvest this

year the KR was attempting to prevent villagers in areas they control from

selling rice in government-controlled areas further south. Using forced labor

the KR was trying to move rice and timber to their base in Anlong Veng near the

Thai border.

"When the defectors started coming out, those loyal to the

government followed and then the villagers panicked," he said. As many as 40,000

new refugees are now camped along Route 6 just 15 kms west of Siem Reap city.

While the cash-strapped government is obviously elated with the numbers

of defectors, the rapid increase in new arrivals combined with thousands of

recently-displaced refugees has resulted in an enormous problem of how to feed

all these people. With one of the worst rice harvests in almost 20 years the

dilemma could reach crisis proportions.

Officially, defectors are

supposed to receive 1000 riels per day and 700 grams of rice. But cadre

interviewed in the main defector camp in Siem Reap city said on January 5 they

hadn't been fed in two days and were only eating because earlier arrivals were

giving them food from their own allotments.

Moreover, government

soldiers complain regularly about not being paid. Should ex-KR receive cash

subsidies while the RCAF rank and file do not see their paychecks, one can

expect the welcome for these new soldiers to be a cool if not frosty


Gen Nhek Bun Chhay said he was taking rice from his own soldiers to

feed the new defectors and that he had no idea when additional rice stocks would

be delivered from Phnom Penh.

As a stop gap measure, the World Food

Program is said to be providing 500 grams of rice a day for one month to all

former KR soldiers and their family members.

The government has asked

for assistance from numerous foreign aid donors but there seem to be few

countries willing to help. Surplus military equipment including cots, mosquito

nets, medicines and tools valued at $370,000 was donated by the American

government to help former KR soldiers. However, a US Embassy spokesperson

lamented that "we're the only ones doing anything."

The Australian

government has pledged $2 million for demobilized soldiers contingent on

contributions from others. Ambassador Kevin said the donation was "a signal to

other donor countries to help out." But even these funds will only be used for

KR who quit the military entirely, which many seem unwilling to do for the

present given threats from their former leaders.

While it is generally

agreed that hard core KR cadre, with estimates on troop strength ranging from

5,000 to 10,000 will probably never give up peacefully, at the very least the

numbers of recent defectors is an encouraging sign for the government.


a result of these successes, requests from field commanders have been made to

extend the amnesty although a final decision on whether this will happen has yet

to be made in Phnom Penh.

However, the problems of abject poverty in

rural areas will remain a tough nut to crack for decades. And in remote villages

which the KR still have access to there is almost no sign that the millions of

dollars in development aid pouring into the country has had even the slightest


Given this, it's likely that there will be impoverished peasants

willing to listen to false prophets for years to come.


  • Construction begins on $1.5B Kampot seaport

    The International Multi-Purpose Logistics and Port Centre, principally invested by Kampot Logistics and Port Co Ltd and projected to cost $1.5 billion, has officially broken ground in Bokor town, Kampot province. The multi-purpose logistics and port centre, located in Prek Tnaot commune, will be built on

  • Cambodia eyes key role in electronics, auto hubs in SEA

    Two roadmaps, part of the LDC’s economic diversification plan, were designed to see it through its migration process, but experts say the journey might be arduous, particularly in the presence of two established hubs in the region By 2028, Cambodia hopes to have exited the

  • Hun Neng, lawmaker and PM’s brother, passes away aged 72

    Hun Neng, chairman of the 4th Commission of the National Assembly, has passed away from heart disease at the age of 72 on the afternoon of May 5, according to the Ministry of Information. Hun Neng is the older brother of Prime Minister Hun Sen, and was

  • Massive stingrays may live in Mekong’s deep pools

    US scientists have suggested that unexplored deep pools in the Mekong River in an area of Stung Treng could potentially be home to significant populations of giant freshwater stingrays, one of the world’s largest freshwater fish species. This comes as a fisherman hooked a 180

  • PM meets with US business giants

    Prime Minister Hun Sen has met with a number of major US companies who have expressed interest in investing in Cambodia, in a meeting convened by the US-ASEAN Business Council (US-ABC). A delegation of companies – including Amazon, Meta, Chevron, ConocoPhillips, ExxonMobil, Ford, Visa and Pernod

  • CCC team off on US business trip

    The Kingdom’s leading economists and private sector representatives have called on the US to renew its tax preferential status for Cambodian exports, as a Cambodia Chamber of Commerce (CCC) delegation departed for a weeklong business visit to the US, where they will meet with