POUN: "I cannot sever my sentimental bonds with him."
TRAPEANG THOM VILLAGE, Takeo - Unlike most others in Cambodia, Oung Poun doesn't
think of her elder brother as "the one-legged Khmer Rouge general known to journalists
as 'The Butcher' for his cruelty". Rather, she thinks of Cambodia's most famous
prisoner as a kind soul, a loving brother, and deserving of mercy.
"I heard about his arrest by radio, but I don't know how to help him,"
she says of the last hardline Khmer Rouge leader, Ta Mok, 72, arrested Mar 6 under
the law banning the KR and likely to face genocide charges in Cambodian court.
"He has done a lot of good things. He wanted justice, honesty, he hated the
bad things and betrayal," the 60-ish widow says. "He just became crazy
in the three years [of the DK regime]. He was so busy with the so-called 'Great Leaps',
running to the east, the west, the north, the south."
When she heard the news that Mok was in Phnom Penh, she said her initial reaction
was joy that her beloved brother was all right.
"I was happy because I could clearly see that he was still alive, and that he'd
be able to see his relatives and be happy," she says. "I missed him so
much ... But now I become worried because they may kill him directly or sentence
him to death."
With concern in her eyes, she explains: "I feel very sorry when I hear of his
sad situation. That's why I think maybe I should not visit him because I think I
would cry when I see his situation, and I'm afraid they will not allow me to meet
him in the jail."
She says she did not know that other KR cadre who outranked Mok in the 1975-79 DK
regime - including Khieu Samphan and Nuon Chea - had defected and been welcomed back
to society by Prime Minister Hun Sen. But she echoes Hun Sen's words at that time
when asked what should happen to Mok.
"Forget about the past. He's old, don't punish him badly," she says. "Usually
if you do bad things to people, people get angry with you, but when you are away
from them for a long time, they calm down ... He is Khmer too, let him live."
Poun says she thinks it's unfair that Samphan and Chea are at liberty while Mok is
not. "I do not agree, they put the mistake on only one person, the others are
free. Why not let all these people be happy all together?"
She says if Mok is spared, she would be thrilled to welcome him back home.
"I would like him to live with me. I believe the local authorities will not
be mean, they will at least give him a piece of land, so he can be a farmer like
he was before, when we were young."
She has not seen her brother since sometime in the early 1990s, when she took a trip
to the former KR stronghold of Anlong Veng, encouraged by government authorities,
to try and convince Mok to return to society.
"I said, 'Oh brother, you are old, don't continue to live in the jungle anymore.
Come and live with us, we are so happy now.'
"He said, 'No, I don't want to go back home, I feel ashamed' ... maybe he felt
shy with people in this village. I don't know," she says with a laugh, "probably
he felt shy because he lost the fighting to them."
The aging Poun, who is illiterate and whose mind sometimes strays, doesn't understand
the implications of an international tribunal and says she doesn't know if her brother
can get a fair trial in Cambodia. But she does regret that she was unable to persuade
Mok to defect.
"I felt sorry about not convincing him, I do not know why he didn't come with
me," she says sadly.
She's not sure if she will attend the court proceedings yet. But her son, Nith Mol,
says he will definitely go to see his uncle's trial.
"I want to attend, see what the procedure is," says the 27-year-old Phnom
Penh civil servant, who has never met his notorious uncle.
"I'm so eager to see him. I want to see his face, what does it look like. He's
been infamous for a long time, I saw his photo in the paper but I think his photo
is different than his face," Mol says.
"I want to bring him some present but I don't know what he'd like."
Mol adds that it has been difficult at times growing up in the family.
"Sometimes when I go out, and people near me are talking about Ta Mok, I feel
annoyed and I go away from the place," he says, adding that his friends ribbed
him when they discovered his family connections.
"They would say, 'Oh, why don't you go and be a commander', or 'Why don't you
go and get some gold and money?'," he recalls. "I had a lot of question
marks in my brain, asking, 'Do I get angry with them?'"
But Mol says he is reserving judgment on his uncle's acts. "I can't get angry
with my friends because I don't know, I haven't seen [Mok] do good things with the
KR, but if I believe he did bad things, how can I know, because I've never seen it
with my own eyes ... I was so young, I don't know anything about it."
Poun says: "I think it's fair that the authorities have arrested him, it is
justice based on his conduct in the past.
"But on my behalf, I am his sister, and I cannot sever my sentimental bonds