K HMER Rouge leaders, angry at mass defections, are now conducting a vicious
purging of followers suspected of disloyalty.
In charge of the deadly
retribution is one-legged Khmer Rouge General Ta Mok, the guerrillas'
commander-in-chief, well known by Cambodians on both sides of the 25-year-long
civil war as a mass murderer.
General Mok, earned his reputation as far
back as the '60s, exerting ruthless control over his troops. He rivals even the
KR's official leader Pol Pot in power and cruelty.
high-ranking guerrilla to slip Mok's control is Heng Sarath, who describes
himself as the political commander of Khmer Rouge's northern division 980. He
joined the guerrillas as a youth in 1974.
Sarath, who says he planned his
escape from the guerrillas for two years, defected to the government on July 7,
after Khmer Rouge commanders ordered that he execute his subordinate for
Sarath's defection with 40 of his closest troops was
preceded by a mass defection in January when 431 fighters under his control
"General Ta Mok was very angry about the defections and
ordered that the leadership ranks be purged of spies and bad components," said
Sarath, who commanded more than 550 KR fighters prior to the
"In my region, in May and June alone, around 12 to 15 Khmer
Rouge soldiers were executed on Ta Mok's orders because they were found
listening to the government's national radio," Sarath said.
who changed their minds and returned to their bases after defecting to the
government have also been executed in Cambodia's north-west, the division
Sarath said over 100 Khmer Rouge soldiers who had
disobeyed orders were being held in a large prison in the KR northern
headquarters at Anlong Veng, near the Thai border.
Two KR generals with
60 soldiers had recently led a protest at Anlong Veng about the jailing of
soldiers, but it was put down by Ta Mok, he said.
"There are constant
political and military courts held in the Anlong Veng headquarters and at the
center of it all is Ta Mok, who controls the distribution of rice and salaries
for the entire northern region," he said.
Government soldiers fare even
worse in the guerrilla camp, which is guarded by 4,000 fighters, Sarath said.
All captured soldiers are executed after they are interrogated.
the harsh discipline exacted on their own members at Anlong Veng, Sarath said
the headquarters offer relative luxury after months in the
Relations between Thailand and the guerrilla base are "close"
Sarath said, with a thriving and lucrative log export business. The KR buy up to
300 tons of Thai rice a month.
Although busy with timber deals, Sarath
said the KR's aging leadership still adhere to the communist philosophies they
tried to implement so disastrously in 1975 to 1979, when one to two million
He estimates 70 percent of the guerrillas now follow
only in fear, avoiding a tightly constructed web of spies, retribution and
Mok's control reaches into the most isolated jungle camps in
the north via a closely monitored nationwide radio system and high level
conferences for commanders.
"We report every three days on military
actions like blowing up bridges and roads, planting poisoned bamboo sticks and
mines and burning houses," said Sarath.
"Every two or three months there
is a conference for commanders, at Bos Sbov on the Thai border north of Anlong
Veng". The meetings are attended by 66-year-old Pol Pot and 72-year-old Ta Mok,
Tall and fit, Sarath, 39, said after being forced into the
KR at 17, he slept in trees for 18 of the last 22 years.
violence within the secretive organization and dwindling supplies made life in
the jungle very difficult, despite regular salaries and bonuses paid for
military action or promised bounties for foreigners.
Up to a hundred
fighters a month were severely injured, many by mines, Sarath said, listing the
long stretcher journey to Anlong Veng hospital as another reason for
Despite the strict control exercised over Khmer Rouge mobile
units, economic and family ties with "the enemy" - the Royal Cambodian Armed
Forces (RCAF) - have survived the years of killing.
Since ammunition and
weapon supplies from China and Thailand dried up following the 1991 Peace
Accords, the guerrillas made their own land mines and now buy government arms
and ammunition from local "middle men."
"Everything bought locally is all
RCAF ammunition, as far as I know," Sarath said.
Sarath plotted to move
his wife, Nang Sara, and three children from Anlong Veng to a
government-controlled village, in preparation for his defection.
enemy lines, blood ties with the government side meant he could visit her once
or twice a month, with the sanction of the district police chief who was his
cousin, and the provincial governor, his wife's uncle.
knowledge of all guerrilla movements in the region covered by his former
division, Commander Sarath has now returned to Siem Reap to serve with the
Although Sarath said he was not worried by the dangers of returning
to his former territory, Ministry of Defence officials are concerned about the
safety of guerrilla defectors and their families, defence spokesman General Chum
The murder of Colonel So Suvan and two other defectors in
southern Cambodia by a guerrilla revenge squad in April was a reminder that
guerrilla leaders were as angry about defections as the government was
"No-body can guarantee the safety of defectors, the same as we
cannot guarantee the security of other villagers against Khmer Rouge attacks,"
Sambath said the reprisals will not slow down the
"If it was not good for the defectors why would others
still be coming to join the RCAF?" asked Sambath.
Military sources in
Poipet claim Khmer Rouge leaders executed 45 Khmer Rouge soldiers, 15 at Phnom
Malai, during July because the guerrillas refused to fight.
could not be independently confirmed.