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Stone-faced rebels meet the press

Stone-faced rebels meet the press

COMRADE Mong did the talking, flanked at the long table by the expressionless Phon

and Ron, who never uttered a word.

"Nobody wants to fight," said Mong matter-of-factly. "I met with Ieng

Sary yesterday and this is his policy - to make national reconciliation."

The three Khmer Rouge, envoys of the leaders of the breakaway KR faction, looked

understandably uneasy at their unscheduled meeting with Western journalists.

Mong, special representative of Ieng Sary, shifted in his chair, shuffled his feet

under the table and answered questions with no hesitation but little enthusiasm.

Sunlight pouring into the room from behind them, it was hard to see the expressions

on their faces. Phon and Ron didn't seem to have any; they just stared.

Phon, in his Chinese-style gray uniform and peasant cap, was frightening. He never

moved his eyes - the picture of scantily-clad women, the diagram of the Royal Cambodian

Armed Forces Division 12 hierarchy, nor the photograph of a dead KR soldier, all

of which adorned the walls around him, didn't attract his gaze.

Perhaps he had studied them all before in the previous few days of negotiations with

RCAF soldiers.

It was last Saturday morning and the three, with plastic sandals on their feet- they

had been offered government-issue army boots but said they didn't like them - had

arrived in Nimith to continue their talks of peace.

Stepping off the government helicopter straight from Phnom Malai, they had presumably

expected another day of negotiations. But the journalists had arrived and, after

a brief talk with Funcinpec General Nhek Bun Chhay, they had agreed to say a few

words.

Bun Chhay had given them a bit of advice on what to say. "A word can make us

live, a word can make us die," he told them, according to a taxi driver who

overheard him, and urged them to speak of national reconciliation.

Filing into the conference room of the RCAF Division 12 headquarters, the three sat

down at the table. A dozen or so government officers were there, while soldiers peered

in from outside, eager to hear what their former battlefield enemies might have to

say.

Mit (comrade) Mong, sporting a blue safari suit befitting his seniority over the

other two, was introduced as deputy commander of KR Div 450 and personal envoy of

Ieng Sary.

Not saying a word, he waited for questions.

"It is not a special day today," he said when asked. "We have been

coming here regularly, like relatives, to talk."

Looking tense, he smiled, but not naturally, as though he wasn't sure how to behave.

"Since the [1991] peace agreement, we always thought about peace but the [KR]

hardliners disagreed with us. They wanted to keep their own power... The hardliners

want to go back to the old times, to collective [property]. That is why we split

from them."

Perhaps recalling the advice of Bun Chhay, he added: "What we have done [by

negotiating] is to satisfy all Khmer people. Nobody wants to fight."

What did they want from the government? Nothing, he said straight-forwardly; they

were not people who would beg for help.

"We do not ask for any assistance from the government. I want to stop fighting.

"The hardliners will attack us but I do not worry. We have no agreement with

the Royal Cambodian Armed Forces to get their assistance."

The process of negotiations could be long, he said. Asked who he had been negotiating

with, he said it was the people in the room at the time - almost exclusively Funcinpec

or KPNLF, not CPP, officers.

Was Pol Pot still alive? "As far as I know, he is still in power but has less

influence." He had never met the notorious KR leader, he said.

As for himself, he was aged 44, originally from Kampot, and had been in the KR for

26 years. During the Pol Pot regime, he had been a special forces commander in Sihanoukville.

The press conference nearly over, someone asks why they are not in RCAF uniforms.

Because, says Mong, they are only negotiating and are still part of Democratic Kampuchea

(the Khmer Rouge).

Throughout this, the stone-faced Phon looked straight ahead. Ron, the odd one out

in his blue, striped shirt, looked a little more friendly but said nothing.

After about 30 minutes, it was time to finish. The press were asked to leave. Phon

got ready to go - he was to return to Malai in the helicopter with a message - while

Mong and Ron were to stay behind for a while. Nhek Bun Chhay walked Phon to the chopper,

handed him a bit of cash, an ICOM radio, an envelope with the unknown message inside,

and gave him a hug. Phon, for the time since he had arrived, beamed a genuine smile.

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