Friends and relatives gather around the body of Khmer Rouge general Ta Mok in Anlong Veng on July 22.
NLONG VENG-Even mass murderers have friends and relatives who remember them fondly
after they're dead. At least that seems to be the case with Ta Mok.
Certainly those who shed tears during his funeral ceremonies in this remote former
KR stronghold on July 22-24 did not include the victims or relatives of the more
than 20,000 civilians who were herded into the countryside to be killed or put into
forced labor after Ta Mok's soldiers captured Oudong in March 1974.
Nor did the mourners at Mok's last hurrah include relatives of the 33 ethnic Vietnamese
civilians who were slaughtered in cold blood by Khmer Rouge guerrillas on March 10,
1993 in the fishing village of Chong Kneas near Siem Reap.
And these two tragedies with Mok's signature style on them don't even come under
the April 1975 to January 1979 time period imposed on the Khmer Rouge Tribunal. The
crimes he is alleged to have committed during the KR years in power - ones which
led scholars Stephen Heder and Brian Tittemore to write that Mok could be prosecuted
for crimes against humanity - may now remain clouded in uncertainty.
But crimes against humanity weren't on the minds of the hundreds of people who came
to pay homage to Ta Mok in Anlong Veng.
Villagers of all ages from the district filed under the green, yellow and orange
canvas awnings adorned with a bright red chintz bunting put up outside Ta Mok's daughter's
house on July 22, where Mok's body lay on a bed, his nose and ears plugged with cotton
to keep fluids from leaking out.
Mourners, including three uniformed members of the Thai Military Intelligence unit,
lit incense and bowed three times in front of his body. Female relatives sat by Mok's
side, weeping and dabbing Johnson & Johnson baby powder on his cheeks and neck.
Others put US dollar and riel notes in his hands folded on his stomach.
Two lit candles were placed by Mok's head; three vases with lotus flowers on the
side; posters of enlightened scenes from the Buddha's life were mounted on a screen
behind the body; all very traditional.
People came, paid their respects and departed all morning. Around 700 registered
their names and left donations totaling 15 million riel, according to Meas Mut, Ta
Mok's son-in-law. Some sat for a while and chatted or had a bowl of rice soup. Three
middle-aged men even showed up in the now-banned Khmer Rouge jungle-green uniforms.
The only discerning aspect of the whole event was the deep-set eyes of many of the
men, reflecting, one supposes, years of suspicion and uncertainty from so many decades
in the jungle fighting a lost cause.
Journalists kept their eyes open for any of the big boys that might show up. But
Nuon Chea, Khieu Samphan or Ieng Sary were not to be seen.
"The big people are nervous about being seen in public, especially to respect
Mok, who was in jail," said one ex-KR cadre.
But others were not so shy.
"I love Ta Mok like a father," said Ta Men, 52, who had spent 35 years
as a soldier with the Khmer Rouge. "He was always kind to other people. Ta Mok
was always teaching people to avoid alcohol, gambling and prostitution because all
these will cause violence."
Men's sentiments were echoed by Som Chan, 54, a KR veteran who says he spent 40 years
fighting "to defend the nation."
""He always helped solve problems for the people," Chan said. "I
knew Ta Mok since 1970 when I joined the army to fight the Lon Nol soldiers. I would
like to confirm that Ta Mok never committed any crimes or killed [people]. He was
a good leader and had a strong commitment to develop the country."
"If you compare [the KR years] to the current Hun Sen regime," Chan said,
"many people under his command have committed crimes, corruption and also used
violence against poor people. Ta Mok didn't know about the killings during that time.
The people in Anlong Veng were very good, there were no thieves or robberies, but
within this regime there are thieves and robberies."
What impact Mok's death will have on the overall outcome of the on-going Khmer Rouge
Tribunal remains to be seen, and the reactions to his death from tribunal watchers
"I don't think Ta Mok has much to say besides shifting the blame to Pol Pot
and the foreigners," said Youk Chhang, director of DC-Cam and a survivor of
the KR era. "Ta Mok might be a 'great grandfather' Mok, but he's got stains
on his hands. His death will mean that it will take the victims and the perpetrators
many more decades to come to reconcile with one another."
"The death of Ta Mok further fleshes out that justice delayed is justice denied,"
wrote Theary Seng, director of the Center for Social Development and also a survivor
of the KR years in power. "The death of Ta Mok serves as a fresh and urgent
reminder to the ECCC to expedite the investigative and trial process without further,
unnecessary delays and foot dragging. Not only was Ta Mok one of the more notorious
and infamous 'suspects'... but he would have been one of the rare witnesses who could
have dared to speak boldly against individuals or on topics from which other potential
witnesses would shy away. Hence, the non-presence of Ta Mok is a devastating blow
to the legal process, if not the ECCC, in terms of loss of evidence, especially when
evidence will be hard to come by due to the passing of time and fear..."
French scholar Henri Locard, who conducted extensive research helping to identify
some of the estimated 5,743 mass grave pits in Ta Mok's Southwest Zone, disagrees
on the utility of Mok in court.
An elderly Ta Mok amid Ankorean ruins.
"Ta Mok...has always held on denying any involvement in criminal activities
and refused to speak to anyone. I am certain that if he had been dragged to the KRT,
he would have persisted in this attitude and I never expected any revelation would
have come out of his mouth. Interviewing him would have been a waste of time - unlike,
once again, Duch, if he is allowed to talk."
British researcher Philip Short, author of Pol Pot: The History of a Nightmare, believes
that Mok's testimony could have been very important.
"[Mok] was extremely close to Pol Pot. He masterminded a whole series of key
regional purges under the DK regime, notably in the Northwest and the East. He was
a Zone Secretary and a Standing Committee member. He played an important role in
some of Pol Pot's most far-reaching decisions, such as the abolition of money. And
he represented the continuity between the Issarak rebels who fought against the French
- using very similar methods to the Khmer Rouge - and the CPK two decades later.
Had he testified - and there are good grounds for thinking he would have done so,
if only to justify his own position - he could have cast light on a whole range of
DK policies. Now that he is dead, it is very hard to see who can do so in his place."
Short added: "It is probably going too far to say his death is a fatal blow
to the trial. But it means the prosecution has lost its key witness. In that sense,
Hun Sen's strategy of foot-dragging has paid off handsomely."
American lawyer Peter Maguire, author of Facing Death in Cambodia, believes Mok's
death will hurt the trial.
"The death of Ta Mok is yet another setback for Cambodia's mixed war-crimes
tribunal," wrote Maguire. "He was a significant Khmer Rouge leader who
played a key leadership role until the bitter end."
But Maguire cautions: "It is too much to say that Mok escaped justice, because
the mixed tribunal remains an unproven commodity. Like an arranged marriage, the
UN and the Cambodian government can be forced to the altar, but can they consummate
the union with a legitimate trial? This remains to be seen."
Back in Anlong Veng, Mok's relatives and pals weren't waiting for anything. On Monday
morning, July 24, Mok was buried rather than cremated because, as one of his relatives
said, he had "Chinese blood".
Meas Mut said the family had paid $10,000 to somebody to determine an auspicious
location for the grave and that they'd found a site with good hong suy. Relatives
had kicked in another $5,000 to build a stupa and with an accompaniment of fireworks
during the funeral procession from Mok's daughter's house, his body was laid to rest.