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Itching at Etcheson

Itching at Etcheson

Dear Editor,

I refer to Craig Etcheson and Steve Heder's letter to the

editor entitled "KR Standing Committee". (Post April 28-May 11.)

I would

like to clarify several points made in that letter. In his first paragraph,

Etcheson wrote that the Central Committee, along with the Standing (Permanent)

Committee, is a "statutory leading body". In fact, neither the Central Committee

nor the "Standing Committee" constituted a statutory committee because these

committees were not created by any law, including the KR Constitution


Secondly, there was no such thing as a Standing (Permanent)

Committee during the KR regime. Roughly like the Soviet Communist Party, the KR

Communist Party internal structure was created by the Party Statute


The Party Congress (the body comprised of all members of

the communist party) elected members of the Central Committee.


Central Committee elected members of the Politburo. The members of the

Politburo, in turn, elected the ultimate holder of power, the Secretary-General

(S-G) for the General-Secretariat. The S-G ran both the state and the party. In

practice, all of these "elections" were rubber-stamping the choice of the

leaders. Pol Pot was Prime Minister and Secretary General of the communist party

during the KR regime. The Politburo was the standing committee, but it was not

called the Standing (Permanent) Committee.

The Central Committee created

various Committees, Military or Controlling Committees etc. There was no

Standing (Permanent) Committee as Etcheson asserted. The Permanent Committee

elected by the Central Committee was just another Committee.

Etcheson may

have been thinking about the terms the CPP used for its internal structure that

was "re-formed" on October 17-18, 1991 during an extraordinary party congress.

The CPP's current structure, since 1991, is as follows: Party Congress elects

Central Committee (now 152 members).

Central Committee elects Standing

Committee, the former Politburo (now 10 members), then separately elects the

Control Committee, Financial Committee and president and vice president of the

Central Committee.

The Standing Committee sets up, not elects, the

Permanent Committee, the former General-Secretariat which addresses the Party's

daily work (now 4 members). The current Party's Secretary-General Say Chhum does

not have any state power.

The whole re-organization was instigated by Hun

Sen possibly to give him an advantage over the Chea Sim camp.

A further

change to the CPP was instigated by Hun Sen in 1992. Most of Chea Sim's

followers were removed from high government posts. New people were appointed on

the pretext that the followers of Chea Sim were corrupt. And if the CPP was to

compete with other parties in the 1993 elections, the CPP should have competent

and not (or not yet) corrupt people in the government.

The new CPP

officials were mostly from Hun Sen's camp. In paragraph 3 of his letter,

Etcheson wrote, "While Nuon Chea, Ta Mok and Ieng Sary were indeed members of

the Standing Committee though this period, Khieu Samphan was not and joined the

Central Committee itself in 1976".

Between 1970 and 1976, the communist

movement was incorporated into a new liberation movement called Government of

United Front of Cambodia, under leadership of Prince Sihahnouk (as the Head of

State). In this group, Chan Youran, Khieu Samphan and Thiounn Mumm were members

of the Central Committee's Politburo. The three, Chem Snguon, Keat Chhon, Ieng

Thirith, Thiounn Prasit were members of the Central Committee. At the front

line, the military operation was controlled by the High Military Command of the

Cambodian Liberation Armed Forces in which Khieu Samphan was the Commander-in

Chief. Saloth Sar (then he had not changed name to Pol Pot yet) was the Chief of

the Military Operation of the Army. Nuon Chea was the Chief of Military Conduct

of the Army, and Son Sen was the Chief of the Joint Staff. Khieu Samphan was a

member of Politburo and the Central Committee.

The Communist Party was

re-organized in 1976, when Sihanouk's "best friend" Zhou Enlai died. Zhou's

death offered the KR an opportunity to get rid of Prince Sihanouk and to declare

the existence of the Communist Party. Prince Sihanouk was publicly told via the

KR Radio to "retire" as the Head of State of Democratic Kampuchea because he

"has run of out of breath, thus, he cannot go forward". Three days later, on 2

April 1976, he resigned. Samphan was still a member of Central Committee and


He was never not a member of the party's leading bodies. Pol

Pot became Prime Minister and Samphan took Sihanouk's post, Prathein

Kanakprathien, President of the Presidum.

Keat Chhon, according to

Norodom Sihanouk's Prisoner of the Khmer Rouge was the KR Minister of Industry,

thus, since he held a relatively high level position, it is reasonable to say

that he was a member of the Central Committee. Chhon, Thiounn Prasit and his

niece Pok Monna were the ones who, in 1979, escorted Prince Sihanouk to New York

for the UN General Assembly to speak for the KR against the Vietnamese


The Prince, however, escaped from his three guards at 2 am to

meet the US Permanent Representative to the UN for political asylum.


is true that Duch was not a member of the Central Committee, but he no doubt was

an active member of the Communist Party. Duch was notorious because he was the

chief of the S-21 Detention Center, which the Vietnamese renamed Tuol Sleng.

According to historical texts such Cambodia: Watching Down Under, 1991, Hor

Namhong was the chief of the Phnom Penh Boeng Trabek Detention Center, and so

was Ouk Bun Choeun, the current Secretary of State for the Department of

Parliamentary Relations. Bun Chhoeun was promoted to the PRK Minister of Justice

until Chem Snguon took over in 1993.

Another main detention Center was

the Khmer-Soviet Friendship University, the current Institute of Technology. The

late Sgnuon was a prisoner in one of the two prisons. In 1979, Hor Namhong was

fleeing the invading Vietnamese troops but was captured in Pursat, sent back to

Phnom Penh for brief detention then sent to Ho Chi Minh City for a


He was then sent back and was appointed Vice Minister of Foreign

Affairs. There he met the Minister, a much younger fellow named Hun Sen who in

turn was most likely to have been captured in a battle of the first swift

divisional Vietnamese invasion between 25-30 December 1977. Hun Sen was,

according to himself, jailed by the Vietnamese authority for 22 days before

being released.

It is true that Namhong was not a member of the Central

Committee, but just a member of the Party. From my reading, Anette Marcher of

the Post may have meant what she said when she wrote, "The Central Committee of

the Communist Party of Kampuchea divided its members into three categories." If

we take it that categorization of the membership of the Party is a policy or a

rule decided by the Central Committee which was the case, then what she wrote is

correct because to become a member of the Party, one first had to apply for

membership in the communist party. At this stage the person is called pekakchun,

candidate, then a member.

Once you are a member, you can vote in the

Congress. The point is, if Duch is a criminal because he was a chief of a KR

prison, then why are others not criminals.

If finding justice for the KR

victims is our goal, then why do we not look at all those others who may be


Youk Chhang's latest proposal that only members of the Central

Committee and "Standing Committee" be brought to account for killings is

suspicious given the fact that he may be one of the people who is best placed to

understand the KR crimes, and their complicity. Because this proposal excludes

the real killers such as zonal or Phumipheak and regional or Dombon Commanders

or secretaries whose decisions and actions were in many respects, with certain

exceptions such as rooting out the Lon Nol officials, independent.


if not all people, were not members of the Central Committee or the


One may suspect that this proposal was meant to exclude

andaccommodate current members of the CPP who are former members of the Khmer


In his letter, Mr Etcheson may be attempting to defend current

members of the CPP who were referred to by implication in Ms Marcher's article.

What is surprising is that Steve Heder, known to be an objective watcher of

Cambodia, lent his name to this letter to the editor.

- Bora Touch,



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