HE government's amnesty and re-education program for Khmer Rouge defectors
seems to have fallen out of favor with KR cadre.
KR defectors are
re-educated in three-month courses at the Khmer National Army Reconciliation
Center at Dei Eth, about 30 km south of Phnom Penh, and then given the choice of
returning to civilian life or joining the Royal Army at the same rank they
formerly had with the KR.
After much initial enthusiasm, radio appeals
from the two Prime Ministers last August and leaflets air-dropped over KR
controlled areas, enrollment at the center has dropped sharply.
after the first appeals several hundred KR came to Dei Eth, and the first course
which ended last November had 599 defectors. The fourth course which ended on
May 3 had 198 defectors and the Center now has just 77 defectors enrolled in the
Defectors in Dei Eth say that while they were attracted by the
national reconciliation theme of the government's plea, the center itself had
acquired a bad reputation among those planning to quit the guerrilla group.
While military officers at the Center say more than 90 percent of
graduates from the Center join the RCAF, the defectors say a job in the army,
the main lure of the amnesty program, now holds little attraction.
independent investigation into the program by a human rights organization says
it has been "marred by corruption involving top army commanders, cases of
ill-treatment of defectors and attempted killings of several
The head of the center, General Say Khon, said: "We did have
complaints earlier, but since the end of the first course we have had no
problems. It is difficult to recruit cadre. We have to go deep into jungles. We
expect more here anytime."
A former Khmer Rouge soldier from Kompong
Thom, Colonel Leng Dorn, who now works with the army at the center would not
accept numbers had reduced significantly.
But he said that when he went
to Kompong Thom six weeks ago he was only able to recruit eight defectors,
whereas in March he had found 23 on a similar trip.
The program was
discredited within one month after the first course started last September.
There were so many defectors, more than 900 at one point, that an additional
center was set up in Russey Keo near Phnom Penh. About 245 former rebels were
taken there in October.
It soon emerged more than 200 of them were fake
KR who had paid an official between $350-$500 each to land a job in the
A fake defector, in a testimony to a human rights organization
which was investigating the case, said: "When we first went to the center we
were told we had to say we were KR defectors, only then did we know we had been
duped. Some of us had sold land and buffaloes to raise the money to join the
Other defectors in the Russey Keo Center complained of beatings
and humiliating punishments for minor offenses, like being made to crawl with
hands tied behind their backs and to stand in the sun for several hours. They
also complained of not being allowed to meet their families.
about these allegations General Khon reportedly told an official from a local
human rights organization that these were "only minor punishments for those
trying to escape."
According to an independent investigation, more than
200 people later escaped from the centers including several who were genuine KR
soldiers. The Russey Keo Center was closed late last year and all the remaining
genuine defectors were transferred to Dei Eth.
The program suffered a
further blow in early December last year when a Khmer Rouge commander of a
secret unit called Division 207 and his deputy were shot in broad daylight in
Meanchey district in Phnom Penh. The actual reason for the shooting remains a
The two men defected last August and had reportedly, on orders
from the military in the Dei Eth Center, rallied some 170 other KR from Kompong
Thom, Kompong Speu and Kompong Cham to defect.
The pair, after they were
discharged from hospital, were asked to recruit more defectors. They asked for
more time to recover.
They were then expelled from the Center along with
92 of the people they had recruited on Jan 31. A senior military officer who had
signed the expulsion order reportedly said they were fake defectors.
an international human rights organization says that on the basis of several
interviews they had with the men they were in fact bonafide KR.
spokesman for the organization said: "Their claims of being real KR were
substantiated by documents and information from other sources. Most of them felt
betrayed and returned to the forest to rejoin the KR army."
presently in Dei Eth say escapees from the Center have spread bad stories which
have deterred many potential defectors from coming to Dei Eth.
defector from KR regiment 277 which operates in Koh Kong said: "We heard that
people are not treated well by the military in the Center. Some defectors from
earlier courses who could not bear life in the Center escaped and returned to
the jungles telling others not to go to Dei Eth."
Defectors also say the
army is no longer a big draw. A defector from Division 802 in Kompong Thom
province said: "KR soldiers know the army is corrupt, the soldiers have received
no pay for months and they are fighting all the time. No one wants to join the
army if they can help it."
Defectors now at the Center say there is no
major ill-treatment. A defector from KR division 802 said: "We are not treated
like before, but we have no freedom. We cannot go out, the discipline here is
too strict. We have no money even to buy cigarettes. Life in the jungle was
easier than this."
Defectors also say that they have so far learned
little and spend most of their time planting banana trees and building a road in
A local human rights organization which had trained earlier
batches of defectors in human rights, democracy and the new constitution, has
not gone back since the last course finished in early May apparently because
there are not enough defectors.
Defectors say the program now has so
little attraction that KR soldiers who want to defect simply leave or surrender
to local authorities.
A defector from Division 802 said: "Most KR prefer
to disarm quietly by approaching provincial military authorities and giving up
"Most would prefer to return to their villages and
families. Only those who have no alternative to joining the army come to Dei
An official working with a local NGO which trains defectors says
the government needed assistance to fund the Center and to find teachers who
could equip defectors to return to normal life.
She said: "Not many
organizations are willing to help the government because it is seen as too
political, too controversial. That makes it even more difficult to run."