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Peace-clearer in Siem Reap prefers hoe to the gun

Peace-clearer in Siem Reap prefers hoe to the gun

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,"

he added.

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

the conversation.

"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

or fighting.

Vann doubted the KR were sincere, that they wanted peace after coming into the new

government.

"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,"

he said.

"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.

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