THE Khmer Rouge is publicly supporting King Norodom Sihanouk in an apparent bid to
gain political currency and take advantage of instability in the government.
In its first direct response to political tension in Phnom Penh, the rebel group
appeared to position itself for any Royal initiative.
The KR's nominal leader Khieu Samphan declared that the King's "political value"
was rising but specifically urged him not to take any action now - and not to return
Samphan, in facsimile letters to the King from an unknown location, railed against
the CPP and expressed concern that His Majesty would be killed, physically or "politically".
Political observers and government members said the KR wanted to encourage political
instability, and seek new legitimacy by aligning with the King - and implicitly Funcinpec
- to counter Hun Sen's CPP.
They said the KR's political prospects rest largely upon the King - whose vision
of peace and national reconciliation has become a Royal crusade - in the face of
Hun Sen's opposition to a political settlement with the rebels.
Some observers suggested that if the King arranged round-table talks between Funcinpec
and CPP - as he has said he will try to if the political situations grows too grave
- he could include the KR in them.
Others, however, dismissed the likelihood of any such move, saying that Hun Sen would
Meanwhile Deputy Prime Minister Sar Kheng (CPP) - in a speech made after the King's
exchange of letters with Khieu Samphan - said that the KR were "very happy"
with the political unrest.
"They will benefit the most. No-one will benefit but the Pol Potists,"
he said of any fight between Funcinpec and CPP.
But Kheng still held open the prospect of the KR being welcomed into the Royal government,
except for senior leaders guilty of genocide.
Other KR who abandoned their guns, "to join the government or create a political
party...the government will not object to that," he said.
Referring to politicians who said that Khmers must stop fighting Khmers, Kheng said:
"This is appropriate but we cannot accept the policy of Pol Pot.
"So don't mix up this issue. Some figures who are politicking now never knew
about the suffering endured by the people during Pol Pot's era."
The King's exchange of letters with the KR began with a May 9 letter from Khieu Samphan,
which has not been made public but which apparently expressed concern that His Majesty
would be killed.
In a May 20 reply to Samphan, the King wrote: "I thank you for your message...
in which you wanted to convey to me your wishes concerning my so-called 'decision
not to return to Cambodia and to safeguard my life'."
The King responded that "it is not a question for me to abandon my country and
the Cambodian people" but his health required him to stay in China for treatment.
"I have never feared for my life. I do not believe that in Cambodia or somewhere
else someone will assassinate me."
In a two-page reply dated the same day, Samphan said the "yuon [Vietnamese]
communists and their puppets" planned to kill the King "politically"
or hasten his death through old age.
He said the "yuon communists" would never share power with anyone, but
would continue to be supported by "the Westerners."
At the same time, Samphan said: "We and the general public clearly understand
that the political value of Your Majesty is increasing every day before the nation,
the people and international community..."
Samphan urged the King to remain abroad. The longer he delayed his return "the
more political value" he would earn.
"All of us would like Your Majesty to remain silent, not making any announcement
or political activity at all. May Your Majesty remain quiet until the situation changes
more favorably for Your Majesty..."
The King, in a reply dated May 23 - before he canceled his return to Cambodia - said
his duty was to return home "to bring to our beloved people the comfort of my
He added - with a clearly barbed reference to Pol Pot's former KR regime - that "I
know the dangers which I will have to face in Cambodia as well as the fragility of
the Cambodian monarchy, assassinated once by the Lon Nol clique (March 1970) and
a second time by the Pol Pot movement (April 1975)."
The King's letters were addressed to "Excellency Khieu Samphan, President of
the Party of Democratic Kampuchea" and written on facsimile letterhead. No facsimile
number appeared on the publicly-released copies. They, and Samphan's reply typewritten
in Khmer, were made public by the Royal Palace.
The King's first letter was addressed to Samphan "C/O His Excellency Ok Sakun."
Sakun, according to one Western historian, was a KR associate of Samphan's and coordinator
of the KR network in Europe. He held positions in Sihanouk's internationally-recognized
government in exile, which fought Hun Sen's regime. He represented Samphan in Sihanouk's
first negotiations with Hun Sen in 1988.
Government and political sources say Sakun is currently living in France, possibly
One political observer said the correspondence, made public by the Royal Palace,
clearly showed that the King "does not recognize the Khmer Rouge as outlawed."
Another noted that the King did not sign the 1994 law which banned the rebel group;
Chea Sim did in his place.
"I don't see anything wrong at all to communicate with the Khmer Rouge, even
if the National Assembly outlawed the Khmer Rouge," said Funcinpec MP Ahmad
"Just remember that maybe today we outlaw the Khmer Rouge but tomorrow we abolish
He said there were no moves to scrap the law, as CPP would never agree. But his personal
view was, as long as anyone who spoke out against the government was accused of being
KR, the law should be abolished.
More importantly, he said, "is whether Khmers want to stop fighting with Khmers.
Every individual must ask themselves what are we gaining [by fighting]?"