SIEM REAP - For peace to be restored in Cambodia, it will take an unspecified period
of time and loss of life despite peace negotiations apparently taking precedent over
fighting between the government and the KR .
That was the view in Siem Reap province of a group of mine-clearers composed of former
soldiers from different factions who used to be battlefield enemies.
"Now peace depends on the KR because they are still in the jungle," said
Vann, 36, a former soldier of KPNLF. He refused to give his full name.
"KR were the first to start the fire and now they are afraid to put it out,"
The "fire" he referred to was the KR regime between 1975-79.
Speaking after a day of clearing mines near the Angkor complex, some of the deminers
expressed their feelings about a 13 year jungle alliance with the guerrillas during
the Vietnamese occupation.
One of Vann's colleagues, lying on a stretcher at the mouth of a tent, interrupted
"Let's forget about the friends we made with them (KR). It would be better if
they were just got rid of," he said.
They seemed confused when asked who benefited from the civil war.
Loeun Soeun, 21, who was a KPNLF guerrilla fighter in Thmar Puok until after the
peace plan, said: "I prefer carrying a hoe to sleeping with a gun in the jungle."
He said the reason he become a deminer six months ago was that now he managed to
make ends meet without any problem, although he has not been able to save any of
his monthly $160 salary.
"My life has been more normal than it was in the jungle where sometimes there
was no food, no medicine," said Soeun.
Vann continued the conversation, puffing on a Marlboro Light cigarette. He said he
believed the main objective of the government's military operation was "to eliminate
bad people in order to provide peace and freedom to the whole nation".
The deminers said they did not know which tactic would work with the KR-peace-talks
Vann doubted the KR were sincere, that they wanted peace after coming into the new
"I hate the KR. You can never trust their thinking or belief at all. I'm sure
about this, because I used to stay with them in the jungle. Power is their only purpose
and they don't know how to live in peace," he said.
He did not think that fighting would end in the near future, "because to let
them (KR) come in means to share power with them. If so they will, one day, step
by step, turn Cambodia into another Champa, which no longer has a country".
When asked if there were Vietnamese soldiers in the country, Vann smiled and said:
"Yes, a lot of Vietnamese people."
Vann said in his opinion it was better to fight the KR than pursue the government
policy of negotiating with them.
He was optimistic the new government would succeed and hoped all parties would continue
cooperating for the sake of the nation.
He hailed the government's amnesty campaign for KR rank and file soldiers. "For
ordinary people like me, it's difficult to distinguish who is good and who is bad.
Of course, among the four regimes in the past, the Khmer Rouge's was the worst,"
"But, if all Khmer can figure out how to unite the nation, I appreciate the
ideal very much, that is the best way."
"The policy-makers should mend fences, so I can have a piece of land for rice
farming to feed my family. If they can't, we will continue to face war which we all
hate," he said.
As for the rest of the deminers who remained less talkative, they just shook heads
in agreement when Vann had nothing more to share.
His final thought, was that the key leading to peace is in the pockets of the big
politicians, especially the KR.