PAILIN - "It is like my rebirth when the Royal government comes here. I hope
Pailin will have no more fighting."
So said Phan Sam Ol, a 27-year-old soldier, on Nov 8. He and virtually all of Pailin
turned out for a ceremony marking the transformation of their town - formerly a fiercely-protected
Khmer Rouge stronghold, most recently a politically neutral, autonomous enclave -
into a Cambodian municipality.
"The people are very glad to be a part of the government," said Ngeang
Torp, a Div 22 battalion commander.
He and his assembled troops cheered on cue throughout the ceremony, which was attended
by dignitaries including First Prime Minister Ung Huot, Pailin mayor Ee Chhean, and
Ieng Sary with his wife Ieng Tirith.
The ceremony followed the October visit to Phnom Penh of Sary, ex-foreign minister
of the KR and now head of the former rebels' political wing, the Democratic National
Union Movement (DNUM).
During that visit, his first since the Khmer Rouge were driven out of Phnom Penh
in 1979, Sary met with Second Prime Minister Hun Sen and pledged cooperation with
The move, seemingly ending DNUM's neutral stance - although government offiicals
say Pailin still retains virtual autonomy - has raised the possibility of Pailin
being drawn into the country's simmering military conflict between Hun Sen's government
and resistance forces loyal to Prince Norodom Ranariddh.
But the former KR warriors seem to have no stomach for battle these days.
"We are so bored of fighting, we don't want to fight any more," said Chuk
Thet, a 31-year-old military policeman. He added that if Pailin's troops were to
end up fighting after all, they might as well have stayed with the hardliners.
He said he and his fellow soldiers want only to stay neutral, and to avoid getting
embroiled in politics. "I clearly understand that 'politics' means 'cheating'."
Others in Pailin, while voicing similar concerns about war, were not so cynical about
Phan Sam Ol said he thought popular sentiment favored allowing Prince Ranariddh to
return to Cambodia to participate in elections. However, he estimated that 60% of
Pailin's vote would go to the Khmer Nation Party.
"The people like [KNP president] Sam Rainsy because he is not a fighting man,"
he said, citing the former finance minister's past opposition to government appropriations
for offensives against the KR, and to the 1994 legislation which outlawed the rebel
A noodle shop owner corroborated the widespread KNP support, also estimating a 60%
sweep. "Sam Rainsy is the best person because he is doing right," he said.
Despite the support for Hun Sen's strongest critic, Pailin residents were loath to
condemn the Second Prime Minister's July 5-6 military ouster of Ranariddh. "It
takes two hands to make a clapping sound," said many people, implying both sides
were to blame.
However, the fighting did have an adverse effect on Pailin's formerly booming, gem-and
timber-dominated economy. Business was down for the two or three months afterwards,
although it is starting to pick up again, residents agreed.
Opinion was also unanimous on the subject of former KR leader Pol Pot. "It is
true that Pol Pot killed people," asserted Nou Sarin, 46, Ee Chhean's former
cabinet chief, who joined the KR in 1970. He said he was one of the people who wrote
reports of deaths for Pol Pot's government, so the former leader's recent denials
of responsibility could not be true.
"Everybody hates Pol Pot, Ta Mok and Son Sen," added Phan Sam Ol, noting
that he and 50 other soldiers had gone to Anlong Veng on Aug 15 last year in an attempt
to capture Ta Mok and Son Sen, but the hardline leaders had escaped.
"I don't like Pol Pot, but I like the 'new Khmer Rouge'," said a 33-year-old
taxi driver who moved to Pailin last year. "Pol Pot and Ta Mok are the same
... very cruel. But Ieng Sary and Ee Chhean have been different for a long time."
Residents agreed that Ieng Sary's new policy of peace and national reconciliation
was better than Ta Mok's continued warmaking. Nou Sarin said: "Politicians should
be fighting with words or pens, it is better than weapons."