PAILIN - Pol Pot, the symbol of Cambodia's "killing fields", is still alive
and playing an active role in running the Khmer Rouge army, according to guerrilla
"He is still alive and travels from base to base giving moral support to the
comrades," Colonel Arun, deputy commander of the Khmer Rouge Pailin region said
Rumors that the 68-year-old had died of malaria swept the region earlier this month,
but Arun said Pol Pot was last in the gem mining center of Pailin in the middle of
March and appeared healthy.
"What I can say is that people at that level have access to modern medical treatment.
There's no way he would die a humble death from malaria in the jungle," Arun
Arun said he thought rumors of Pol Pot's death were spread by their enemies who wanted
to see the guerrilla force collapse, but a KR Colonel did say the rank and file were
discouraged by the prospect of a war without end.
He said the troops were disillusioned watching officers get fat on the spoils of
the illegal trade in timber and gems: "I think we'll continue fighting for one
more year," he said.
A KR officer cited one example of "Comrade Pat" who disappeared from his
house: "Later we learned he had gone to the United States with $4 million from
gem mining and logging deals."
Throughout the '80's and early '90's when the KR was part of a coalition fighting
the Vietnamese-backed Phnom Penh government, its officers had a free hand to operate
ruby mines around Pailin or lease concessions to Thai businesses. Chanai Suksampan,
the head of the Chamber of Commerce in Chantaburi estimated that cross-border trade
in gems and logs totalled $112 million a month at its peak in the early 1990's.
Even though 80 per cent of all income was meant to be put into the KR war chest,
one officer said many corrupt cadres stashed gems and money for themselves.
Dozens of new houses have sprung up in a jungle town near Pailin. Pailin itself was
captured briefly by government forces in 1994 but is now an abandoned ghost town.
During the government's occupation of Pailin expensive cars were seen parked in garages
and television sets graced living rooms but some guerrilla sources said they faced
serious ammunition shortages and were unable to launch offensives.