Logo of Phnom Penh Post newspaper Phnom Penh Post - Secret talks lead to final purge

Secret talks lead to final purge

Secret talks lead to final purge

E MERGING details of the violent power struggle within the Khmer Rouge show that government

negotiators were on the brink of ending the guerrilla movement's armed struggle against

the central government.

But instead of bringing peace, the negotiations ruptured not only the Khmer Rouge

but the fragile coalition government itself, sparking the coup d'etat and raising

the possibility of protracted fighting between RCAF forces loyal to Second Prime

Minister Hun Sen and those of ousted First Prime Minister Norodom Ranariddh.

The final surrender of the Khmer Rouge-successfully formalized on July 4 by Ranariddh

and Khmer Rouge nominal leader Khieu Samphan-was viewed as a political plot by Hun


Cambodian government documents obtained by the Post, signed by both the government

and Khmer Rouge negotiators, show that the guerrillas had reached final agreement

to integrate their troops into the government army and join the government on the

afternoon of July 4.

The agreement was the culmination of six weeks of a score of secret meetings between

Khmer Rouge leaders and government military negotiators in remote jungles.

A formal ceremony was scheduled to surrender Khmer Rouge forces on July 6 and announce

their recognition of the Cambodian government and Constitution.

But Hun Sen viewed the move as a plot by his coalition partners within the government

and launched his violent coup on the morning of July 5. Instead of ending the 27

year old war, the ouster of Prince Ranariddh has forced his remaining loyalist generals

into a new military alliance with the ex-Pol Potists against Hun Sen.

The emerging arrangement is giving new life to the former Khmer Rouge forces-weeks

ago totally isolated and on the brink of final collapse-whose military prowess is

now wedded with the political legitimacy of the ousted elected government and remaining

forces of Prince Ranariddh which have taken to the jungle.

Government negotiators have been encouraging Khmer Rouge defections since about half

of the guerrilla army in the west of the country, loyal to long-time leader Ieng

Sary, laid down their arms in August 1996.

Pol Pot, in firm control of the rest of the organization in control of northern redoubts,

bitterly opposed the peace negotiations. But many of his top commanders, seeing continued

warfare as futile if they played no political role, were sympathetic to attempting

a reconciliation.

Formal negotiations with the Khmer Rouge were attempted in February, but a government

team of 15 emissaries had their helicopter ambushed by Pol Pot loyalists when it

landed in Khmer Rouge territory. Ten of the government officials were executed and

the remainder released only after the purge of Pol Pot and the coup d'etat in recent


Negotiations resumed on May 16, according to both Khmer Rouge and government officials,

when a government delegation of military officials met with Khmer Rouge officials

led by senior political figure Tep Kunnal "who said he was in favour of national

reconciliation and wanted a permanent ceasefire...to study whether we could work

together to allow their territory and army to join the government, like in Pailin,"

said a government negotiator who was there.

Tep Kunnal, a French-educated engineer and longtime Khmer Rouge diplomat and political

strategist in his mid 40's who joined the revolution in the early 1970s, has emerged

as a top new leader of the group.

A series of talks continued through the end of May and into early June as government

soldiers repeatedly traveled by helicopter to the remote Khmer Rouge stronghold at

Anlong Veng to debate counter demands from each side.

"Pol Pot was informed of the negotiations," said the senior government

negotiator. "At first Pol Pot said he was in favour of negotiations. But our

side insisted strongly that Pol Pot must be completely out. So we discussed secretly

with the new military leaders. So that was why Pol Pot was getting mad. We asked

to exclude him."

The guerrillas agreed in principle to integrate their army into the government armed

forces, recognize the Cambodian constitution, and formally disband their 'provisional

government', according to both Khmer Rouge and government sources.

On June 1, Prime Minister Ranariddh met Khmer Rouge Prime Minister Khieu Samphan

secretly near the Thai border, Ranariddh told the Post on Aug 11.

On June 5, the two sides met at the historic temple at Preah Vihear, on a mountain

jungle base controlled by the guerrillas where they were preparing a ceremony site

to hold a press conference and ferry up diplomats to witness the surrender of the

rebel forces.

But "that evening Gen Khem Nguon," chief Khmer Rouge military representative

on the negotiating team and now chief of staff of the new Khmer Rouge army, called

a senior government negotiator by mobile telephone "and asked me to work carefully

on the issue secretly, because the negotiations were very sensitive. I realized that

this was a signal that there was split within the Khmer Rouge. I realized that within

the Khmer Rouge there was split on negotiations. I didn't know who it was between,

but Nguon was warning me."

The next meeting was scheduled on June 10 " but there was a big problem-the

killing of Son Sen and his family." It was the beginning of Pol Pot's attempt

to scuttle the political negotiations through a violent purge of Khmer Rouge cadre.

On June 12, top government military commander Nhek Bun Chhay and one other government

colonel arrived by helicopter in Anlong Veng to find a Khmer Rouge at war with itself.

Most of the Khmer Rouge negotiating team, including Tep Kunnal and Khieu Samphan,

had been taken hostage by Pol Pot and his loyalists and heavy fighting raged nearby.

In the meeting with Gen Khem Nguon, he said "Pol Pot held hostage all those

who were in favour of national reconciliation. The situation in Anlong Veng is very

tense. The two groups were those in favour of Pol Pot and those in favour of national

reconciliation," said Gen. Nguon.

Heavy fighting from small arms, mortars and artillery was heard throughout the meeting

"about three kilometers from where we met," said the government negotiator.

The Khmer Rouge asked for immediate military support "to help liberate the hostages

and said the situation was critical.

"After that we immediately took the helicopter to (the nearby government military

base at) Samrong to bring back ammunition - mainly AK-47 ammunition but also heavier

ammunition" including helicopters loaded with mortars, rocket propelled grenades,

and other heavy ammunition.

With Pol Pot and his loyalists on the run and the entire political leadership held

hostage in nearby jungles, government negotiators moved fast.

General Nhek Bun Chhay on June 12 flew from Phnom Penh to Samrong, Samrong to Anlong

Veng, Anlong Veng to Samrong to pick up ammunition, back to Anlong Veng, and eventually

back to Phnom Penh to report to the Prime Minister.

It was that day, in the midst of heavy fighting in the surrounding jungle, that Bun

Chhay first met Khmer Rouge strongman Ta Mok, the 72-year-old one-legged overall

commander of the new Khmer Rouge who had joined the revolution in 1963 with Pol Pot

and now had turned against him.

"I place all my hope on you," he told Bun Chhay. "Please continue

the negotiations for national reconciliation in order to bring trust between our

two groups. I want to see peace in Cambodia and to not see any more killing,"

he was quoted as saying.

It was this day that Ta Mok handed over gory pictures of the murder of defense minister

Son Sen, his wife and 12 of their relatives and associates that had happened two

days before.

"We could hear heavy fighting nearby while we talked with Ta Mok, both mortars

and rifle fire about three kilometers away," said a government negotiater who

was present.

The next day, on June 13, the team returned by helicopter.

"It was a very tense meeting because the fighting was still going on, and they

asked us to postpone the meeting because they had to solve their internal problems


But they "wanted an assurance from us that once their internal problems were

solved, they wanted to have peace deal based on the Pailin model. They used that

term. So we left after three hours."

The government team returned four days later and were told that "the situation

had calmed down" and that some of the hostages had been rescued. "They

said that Tep Kunnal and the others had been liberated and they would arrive back

the next day, but political leader Khieu Samphan was still held and Pol Pot was not

yet captured.

On the next day, they returned and met with Tep Kunnal, who "expressed fear

for his group because Khieu Samphan, their leader, was missing with Pol Pot."

"They said that in the case that Khieu Samphan was missing and killed by Pol

Pot, they might find someone else in the group to replace him. They said they might

pick (elder statesman and 'foreign minister') Chan Youran based on group consensus."

"Pol Pot's slogan was 'fight!, fight!, fight!, struggle!, struggle!, struggle!',"

said Tep Kunnal.

"Tep Kunnal then asked about Hun Sen's stance. What did Hun Sen say about the

group's returning back to join the society?" said the government negotiator

who said there "was no problem provided that he abandon Pol Pot, accept the

constitution, and integrate their army."

Bun Chhay and other government military officials say that Hun Sen and his CPP had

been kept informed of the daily developments throughout the turmoil through the Joint

Abnormal Conflict Resolution Committee. The Committee comprised senior military and

political officials from both government parties and was formed earlier in 1997 to

ease tensions within the government.

Meanwhile, in the jungles of northern Cambodia, Pol Pot was being abandoned one by

one by his last loyalists which had numbered only 300 after the initial turmoil of

June 10. He had fled northeast towards the Thai border, and on the 19th was now surrounded.

On June 21, government negotiators returned to Anlong Veng, where they met an exhausted

Khieu Samphan. Nearby was a very sick, 72- year- old man hooked to an intravenous

drip and an oxygen mask over his face.

When asked by government negotiators whether they could take a picture of Pol Pot

to prove to the world that he was alive and captured, Ta Mok erupted: "Let me

throw the contemptible Pol Pot in a cage first and then you can take his photograph!"

"He was very angry," said a witness. Ta Mok also reportedly told negotiators

then: "If you have a place for him you can take him", but no specific country

was mentioned by the Khmer Rouge.

From the capture of Pol Pot on the 19th, the move towards finalizing the peace negotiations

proceeded quickly.

On June 20, during an official visit of Thai Prime Minister Chavalit Yongchaiyudh

to Phnom Penh, Prime Minister Ranariddh announced publicly that Pol Pot was under

arrest and Khieu Samphan would agree to surrender. The comments were met with widespread

scepticism by diplomats and others, coming on the heels of similar comments over

recent months that never seemed to bear fruit.

A military subcommittee was formed to hammer out the details of integrating the rebel

guerrillas into the government army. Bun Chhay demanded that the rebel group announce

the support of the Cambodian Constitution over the guerrillas' clandestine radio.

A draft statement where the Khmer Rouge agreed to support the constitution, turn

over their army and territory to formal central government command, and recognize

the role of the King as the sovereign of the nation was prepared by the Khmer Rouge.

But the government negotiators spent days hammering out wording, and demanding the

removal of vitriolic language condemning Hun Sen-particularly frequent references

to the Second Prime Minister as "contemptible" and a "puppet"

of Vietnam.

"We said to them you must stop using these words because in the Constitution

it says, for the first term, there are two prime ministers, so to support the Constitution

you cannot condemn the Second Prime Minister. We asked specifically to stop using

'puppet' and (the derogatory Khmer phrase, roughly translated as 'the contemptible')

'a' in their language on the draft announcement to surrender to the government,"

said one of the chief government negotiators.

On June 22 the Khmer Rouge agreed to cease using the term "provisional government"

to refer to their jungle organization.

In return the Khmer Rouge reiterated a request for assurances that they be allowed

to keep the same military arrangement in Anlong Veng as was given to the Pailin defectors,

where the military units changed into government uniforms, and pledged allegiance

to the King, government and Constitution, but were not forced to disperse from their

territory. Gen Bun Chhay agreed.

And it was agreed that the former Khmer Rouge who now called themselves the National

Solidarity Party, could join the National United Front coalition of anti-Hun Sen

political opposition parties led by Funcinpec that had been formed earlier in the

year in the run up to elections scheduled for 1998.

On the 29th of June, Khmer Rouge strongman Ta Mok met the negotiators over lunch

at Anlong Veng. Ta Mok complained about attempts to bring him to an international

court on charges of crimes against humanity, citing Ieng Sary's Royal amnesty granted

in 1996 after his defection.

"Now Ieng Sary has already been given amnesty by the King and Ieng Sary was

number three in the command structure of the Khmer Rouge. But I was number five.

So if the number three is amnestied, why not me who was less powerful?" complained

the one legged commander who joined the revolution in 1963 and is accused of leading

major purges of political enemies during their years in power. "From the very

beginning of the struggle to now I have never issued an order to kill anyone,"

he contended," All orders were decided by Pol Pot alone. Pol Pot made all decisions

with absolute dictatorship!"

After the meeting with Ta Mok, government negotiators and the Anlong Veng Khmer Rouge

had finalized a series of documents and had come to final agreement to announce their


They scheduled a formal surrender ceremony for June 30, " but the problem was

lack of helicopter transportation for all the journalists and diplomats" to

the remote jungle base surrounded by thousands of landmines and impenetrable by road.

On July 3 both sides had hammered out all details of the agreements, "and we

flew back to Phnom Penh to report to the Prime Minister that everything was finished."

A statement to be announced on the radio and read by Khieu Samphan at a press conference

to be held on July 6 was signed by both sides, including Prime Minister Ranariddh.

"On July 4 we flew back to Anlong Veng and we informed the Khmer Rouge to proceed

because we got the final agreement from Prime Minister Ranariddh," said one

of the chief government negotiators.

The Khmer Rouge had already built a ceremony cite at Preah Vihear temple at which

a formal ceremony was agreed to be held on Sunday July 6 with the attendance of the

diplomatic corps and journalists.

Early on the morning of July 5, Hun Sen launched his coup in Phnom Penh, targeting

Gen Nhek Bun Chhay and inflicting a total military and political defeat of the Funcinpec

forces in the capital within 48 hours.

Now the tables have turned on Funcinpec, who find themselves in a position of needing

military support as Hun Sen has moved thousands of troops and heavy weapons toward

jungle sanctuaries where the Funcinpec forces are back fighting the guerrilla war

they ended with the signing of the Paris peace Agreements in 1991.

With Funcinpec are emerging a military coalition of former Khmer Rouge, both from

Anlong Veng and those who gave up to the government last July, along with government

military units that were loyal to former non-communist guerrillas before the UN elections

held in 1993.

"I hope that ASEAN and the international community will be aware that our government

was not able to take Anlong Veng militarily in a series of major offensives since

1993," said ousted Prince Ranariddh in an interview in Bangkok on August 11.

"Now it is Hun Sen alone. My priority is diplomatic and political struggle,

but I have clearly warned the US if you do not help me put pressure on Hun Sen you

will have civil war, a bloody civil war, and you cannot avoid having the participation

of the Khmer Rouge."

Funcinpec military forces are regrouping now in the far north of Cambodia and are

short of ammunition and under attack.

"What I am afraid of is this: How can my military leaders refuse to welcome

the participation of the former Khmer Rouge forces from Pailin, from Anlong Veng,

who are forming an anti-Hun Sen force in the framework of the Royal Cambodian Armed

Forces," said Ranariddh in the interview. "The Khmer Rouge are coming back,

but they are coming back as nationalists, patriots, not as killers. It is not fair

that they accuse Ranariddh, it is Hun Sen who has brought back the war."


A copy of a joint declaration - signed by Prince Norodom

Ranariddh on July 3 - between Ranariddh and the Anlong Veng Khmer Rouge. The declaration

was never signed by KR nominal leader Khieu Samphan and the deal collapsed when Hun

Sen attacked Funcinpec military forces in Phnom Penh July 5-6. An unofficial translation


Co-Declaration between Samdech Krom Preah and HE Khieu Samphan, President of the

National Solidarity Party, co-decided in the NUF based on the 14 political principals.

1. On [space left blank] July 1997 at Prasat Preah Vihear temple Semdech Krom

Preah, President of NUF, and HE Khieu Samphan, President of the National Solidarity

Party, have discussed the situation in Cambodia in the climate of the great national

solidarity path.

Samdech Krom Preah Norodom Ranariddh and HE Khieu Samphan have also agreed on the

14 political principles of the NUF.

2. The National Solidarity Party declares:

  • A. The regime and the governing of Pol Pot is completedly


  • B. Recognizes and strongly defends the constitution of

    the Kingdom of Cambodia that every person must be strongly respected in both essence

    and in spirit.

  • C. Support His Majesty Preah Bat Samdech Preah Norodom

    Sihanouk. His Majesty the King is a symbol of the Nation, and is the cement to bind

    national unity in order to end war to reach the reality of national reconciliation

    and peace.

3. Samdech Krom Preah Norodom Ranariddh and HE Khieu

Samphan decided to join hands together in the NUF which contains 14 political principals.

Date [undated], Norodom Ranariddh [signed], Khieu Samphan [not signed], Initialed

by Nhek Bun Chhay and Tep Kunnal


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