Ieng Sary maintains the excesses of 1975-79 were Pol Pot's, and Son Sen's, and
others still - but not his own. He talked to the Post in Pailin about his past, and
On Tuesday October 22, 1996, former Khmer Rouge minister Ieng Sary, now president
of the Democratic National United Movement (DNUM), granted an interview with staff
of the Phnom Penh Post.
After Second Prime Minister Hun Sen departed from Pailin at 1:55pm, Post staff met
Sary on a street corner in front of the newly refurbished "hotel" where
Sen and Sary had earlier met and taken lunch together. Speaking in French, the 67-year-old
was affable, with a ready smile, and agreed to talk in an hour after he had slept
"because I'm very tired."
Within the hour Sary's personal secretary Long Norin confirmed the appointment and
asked for a list of interview questions.
At 3:45pm Post staff were ushered to the second floor and into a large room, empty
save for an overhead fan, a couch and chairs of black vinyl, and a metal glass-topped
coffee table with a vase of fresh flowers from Thailand. Sary sat on the couch, and
Norin and Post staff sat facing him in a semicircle. Two soldiers were present as
Sary, dressed in a light-gray safari suit, was attentive. He shook everyone's hand
and responded to being thanked for his time by saying that he wanted especially to
reply to an article written by Laurence Picq (Post, October 4), which he had read.
Picq, from France, is the former wife of one of Sary's lieutenants during the 1975-79
regime. She had criticized Sary as being the instigator of purges during the infamous
"killing fields" years.
Unprompted - and disregarding the loosely pre-prepared questions - Sary said Picq
"had problems with her husband which she has taken to blame me.
"In fact, I tried to help them [Picq and her husband Suong Sikoeun], especially
when the Vietnamese came in 1979. I understood that she would have to face a very
difficult life in the jungle. That's why I decided to send her and her husband to
the embassy in Beijing.
"I read her book Beyond the Horizon, Five Years with the Khmer Rouge, and I
thought it contained a lot of exaggeration. It was far away from the reality. I could
never understand her praise for Son Sen and [Sen's son] Nikorn, who were the real
"So I want to start out by saying what she has said is not true or realistic
Post: There is some debate that you may have actually helped save some people,
such as [present Finance Minister Keat Chhon].
"Yes, it's true. There were five people. Keat Chhon. Hing Oun. Tiuon Prasith.
Aok Sokun. Pech Bunret." [Ed: Bunret is now believed to be in Anglong Veng,
and Prasith in New York. Oun and Sokun's whereabout are unknown].
Post: How specifically did you save these people?
"Angkar threatened to take the five people to a re-education camp. I responded
that if these five people were taken away from me I would have to close the whole
ministry. I would have no-one to work with me. I personally went to meet Pol Pot
and told him if he was to do that I would resign. Pol Pot responded OK, let these
five people be re-educated in the ministry.
Post: Were you worried that you'd be criticized for this?
"I was very worried. Everytime I traveled abroad to accomplish my mission, I
was worried on my return whether I would be taken to a re-education camp or would
I be allowed to stay at home. The atmosphere was very tense. [In these times] meeting
your wife was similar to meeting your mistress. At the time it was very difficult.
They wanted to separate families, sons and daughters, wives from husbands."
Post: With all the excesses of the Pol Pot regime, why didn't you separate yourself
from the Party as soon as possible?
"If I had separated or split from Pol Pot at that time I would have been free
alone, but what would have happened to my nation, to the people, my wife, my kids?
The only place I could have gone would have been China. China didn't agree with Pol
Pot but they said [I] must work with them."
Post: But you couldn't have joined Hun Sen and Heng Samrin...
"Heng Samrin was under the same regime for more than three years. [Samrin] was
in the eastern zone and Soar Phim was there too. The eastern region was led by Soar
Phim and the region experienced the same hardship...
Post: But after 1979 did you consider joining Heng Samrin?
"No. Because the Yuon [Vietnamese] already came to occupy our land. That was
clear. 250,000 troops occupied Cambodia."
Post: What is your version of how negotiations [between his Khmer Rouge faction,
DNUM, and the government] began?
"As you saw this morning at the ceremony, progress keeps increasing. It indicates
that a mutual understanding between the government and our movement has deepened.
We would like to take a little more time to explain to our people about the purpose
of integration. We would like them to integrate with their hearts fully understanding
democracy and national reconciliation, so national reconciliation can be strengthened.
"Civil war has taken place for more than 18 years and in their hearts people
have been taught about war. The breakaway has been for just more than two months,
it is difficult to quickly adopt everything new."
Post: We are aware Funcinpec has offered DNUM certain conditions. CPP has said
no, impossible, for instance Ee Chhean being deputy Chief of Staff. Is this not the
real reason for integration taking longer?
"No. It's not like that. The key purpose is that we want our people to fully
understand national reconcilation, national unity, and putting an end to the war.
"The question of positions within the government is not an issue for us. If
His Majesty the King, the National Assembly and the government see that we are able
or capable of working with them and would like to offer us some positions we would
accept it, but if not we would not make the issue as a price on negotiations with
"We do not intend to create an autonomous or secessionist zone. We want to maintain
Cambodia in its entirety.
"Khmer Rouge radio, loyal to Pol Pot, accuses me of selling Pailin, Malai and
southern Sisophon to the government. In fact, I did not sell. Samdech Hun Sen made
it clear that no-one would take away property from here."
Post: Are you happy with the amnesty granted by the King, or are you worried about
any possible prosecution in the future from a Cambodian court or an international
"I have no worries about any future prosecution, both nationally or internationally.
"But if domestically they want to prosecute me, they will have to abolish the
monarchy first because the King was the one who granted me amnesty. And the court's
verdict in 1979, I'm asking you was the court's verdict at that time recognized by
the international community or not?
"And there's no evidence the court had at that time to properly accuse me of
"I want to forget about this, but since you ask the question I will answer,
but not for the purpose to revive the history in order to create clashes between
the government and the [DNUM] movement."
Post: Do you envisage yourself visiting Phnom Penh sometime this year or next?
"It will depend on the state of my health and the circumstances that I will
make such a visit.
"I spent a lot of my time, since childhood, in Phnom Penh. Now I'm aging and
I've been away for a lot of time from Phnom Penh.
"For three years when we were in power, Phnom Penh was not something I wanted
to see. Events happened in such a way that I had to force myself to accept it. I
wanted a Phnom Penh with markets and a lot of people, but not the way it is now with
a lot of crime and killings."
Post: Does DNUM see a lot of Vietnamese presence or Vietnamese influence in Phnom
"I'm not living in Phnom Penh, so I don't know if there is such an influence.
If there is one, I don't know how that influence has an effect on lives in Phnom
"But I strongly believe that during the occupation of Cambodia by Vietnamese
forces, that influence was left behind on Cambodian people after [Vietnam] withdrew,
but so far I'm not clear what changes there have been. But it is said there is no
Vietnamese presence in the military, but I believe that as I have heard, there are
Vietnamese civilians living in Phnom Penh and they are conducting various business
"How should this question be tackled? I think that staging a war to expel these
civilians out of Cambodia would not be appropriate, and that war cannot be won either.
"So the war Pol Pot keeps staging now can only lead to killing between Khmer
"The more that Cambodians are disunited the more it will open the door for foreigners
to occupy Cambodia."
Post: It has been written that you joined the French Communist Party in Paris
in the early 50s. Did you join before or after Pol Pot, and who influenced who in
"I was a big leader, a major leader of Khmer students. I created a Marxist group
to study Marxism.
"At that time, I stress at that time, I saw no other way but Marxism that could
lead Cambodia to independence from French colonialism.
"In 1951 Pol Pot entered a work brigade in Yugoslavia. It was Tito's movement,
and Pol Pot entered that movement. I went to join a Marxist movement in Berlin. So
the two ways taken by Pol Pot and me were a little bit different from each other.
When I returned from Berlin I went to see him. Pol Pot spent a lot of time playing
snooker and playing the guitar, for me and my group, after we spent time at university
we spent more time studying Marxism.
Post: So there were two independent tracks...
"The goal of the two tracks were aimed at gaining independence from the French,
but Pol Pot's track was Tito-oriented, but my movement was aimed toward socialism.
In 1952 Pol Pot returned to Cambodia, only at the end of 1956 did I return. [Pol
Pot] joined the Viet Minh and was greatly influenced by that movement.
"[David] Chandler [in his book Brother Number One] made quite a few mistakes.
He did not have the knowledge of Pol Pot's role in Rue Lacépede [the students'
area of Paris near La Sorbonne]. Of course in his book there are a lot of good points
but there are a few points he could have no knowledge of."
Post: Would you join the 1998 elections and are you confident that would be with
a DNUM party?
"I'm aging and my objective would be to let the DNUM achieve real national reconciliation,
unity and peace and that will be the end for me, and I will retire. The new generation,
the younger generation of DNUM, whether they form some political party, is up to
Post: At what point will you say that you have achieved national reconciliation,
and will retire?
"I think that will be when there is no more Pol Pot and no more hardline movement,
and real peace will prevail in Cambodia. That is the time I will go into retirement.
Post: So Pol Pot is definitely still alive?
Post: Does your son Ieng Vuth, or Ee Chhean, have political ambitions?
"My son doesn't want to get involved in politics. He has received a lot of pain
when I am accused of being a trator. It was a plain accusation without any evidence
"Ee Chhean has fought for death and survival in the front lines for many years.
He is not afraid of death. During the war of so many years, it is the Pailin front
line that deserves a lot of fame. So when it's announced that Ee Chhean is a traitor
it just ignited anger among the soldiers who defend Pailin."
Post: What did you discuss with Hun Sen?
"We unanimously agreed on national reconciliation and unity and putting an end
to the war. Samdech Hun Sen said that is is not good if we are in a hurry [for integration],
but nor would it be good if it is too late. At the ceremony today he was happy, even
if he said he would face death he must come to meet the people here."
Post: Was an agenda set between you?
"No, no such agenda was set."
Post: Have Nuon Chea and Son Sen escaped to Thailand, or had Thai help to get
to Anglong Veng?
"The information is not so clear. The last we heard they were south of Samlot,
but we don't know their exact whereabouts. It's still not clear if they are on Cambodian
Post: And Nikorn, and Ta Muth?
"The Security Committee of DNUM are detaining them but I don't know where."
Post: Is it possible we're going to see a ballot box with CPP, Funcinpec and DNUM?
"I can say that DNUM is trying to consolidate itself and it may not take part
in the elections at all."
Post: What will stop it?
"We actually haven't taken that question into consideration. What we've been
thinking about is putting an end to the war. It will be a complete satisfaction for
us if between now and 1998 a real peace prevails."
Post: Are you happy with the way [KR defector] Keo Pong is working? [Pong spearheaded
CPP's negotiations with DNUM and forces of the Khmer Rouge, while Funcinpec have
used General Nhek Bun Chhay].
"Keo Pong is a man who asked for submission to the government. Our movement
is a popular movement that has asked for a union with the government to end the war.
That is why we are not doing as Keo Pong [would want] but, on the contrary, we offer
our hand to the government to unite and end the war. This is the ideal for all our
fighters. If there is submission, as Keo Pong would have, our fighters would disagree.
"During the visit of the Prince [Norodom Ranariddh] the population said to him
'we are not submitting, we are asking for peace'. The nuns said this. The population
asked directly to the Prince.
"Keo Pong is offering submission, not a union to end the war."
Post: Can we interview Ee Chhean?
"I asked Ee Chhean to be present here at this interview, but he is very busy
"After today's meeting he maybe heading south to explain to the troops what's
happening, otherwise they might pick up arms and fight each other."
Post: What are the differences between the defection and integration of [Prum
Sue's] Divisions 518 and 519 and the defection of Keo Pong?
"Division 518 is not integrated in the Royal army. The ceremony was just to
distribute food to Division 518 and 519. It is not an integration. Ranariddh said
that there is no need to go too fast.
"We need to give the fighters time to understand the meaning of integration.
Otherwise it is artificial and the fighting will start again."
Post: By taking this time, do you want to avoid a repetition of joining an army
that is itself having difficulty to find unity.
"I want, myself, a national army, a neutral army. I want to contribute to this
neutral and united Royal army."
Post: What did Keo Pong promise to the Samlot division?
"The division leaders were sent by Ta Mok and Son Sen to fight us. The soldiers
stayed there. They did not know what to do so they went to Keo Pong."
- Reported by Matthew Grainger, Christine Chaumeau, Ker Munthit and Michael