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Talks with a defector; cognac, ice and landcruisers

Talks with a defector; cognac, ice and landcruisers

K HMER Rouge defector General Heng Pong was courted by the Royal Government with a

night in a Phnom Penh hotel, a case of Hennessy cognac, ice, soft drinks, and amnesties

and rice for his men.

Heng Pong - a senior political cadre - also asked for a $40,000 landcruiser and his

military commander Doeun asked for a $30,000 vehicle of the same make.

One of the members of the 15-man RCAF negotiating team interviewed by the Post could

not say whether the vehicle concession was eventually granted.

All in all, the Government has every reason to celebrate the turning of the most

senior Khmer Rouge commander ever to defect, along with 357 of his soldiers, and

around 400 families - 1,313 people in all, many of them children.

The biggest defection since the 1993 elections - brokered finally on Feb 23 on Phnom

Aral in Kompong Speu - should cause a big dent in the rebels' military strength.

Heng Pong, 47 - who was thought at one time to be a member of the rebels' central

committee - had it in his mind to defect two years ago but apparently didn't have

any RCAF contacts to do so, said one of the negotitators, who would not be named.

At the beginning of this dry season, he managed to make his wishes known, via relatives

and loggers operating in the area, he said.

"The army thought it was a good idea," said the RCAF negotiator, when asked

if such advances could have been considered a trap. "We used a helicopter to

fly to the army base, then drive to the mountain, however we had made preparations

in case things turned upside down".

He said that he felt nervous driving into Phnom Oral because it was the first time

he had been into a KR zone. The negotiators had first flown by helicopter to an RCAF

outpost in Kompong Speu. However, negotiators knew that Pong had previously been

to Phnom Penh to discuss his surrender, and had been put up in a city hotel earlier

that month.

Negotiators were instructed to make as many concessions as they needed to assure

Pong's defection, he said. Pong will keep his rank and his people would be given

supplies, such as rice, salary and ammunition to fight their former colleagues, he

said.

Military intelligence sources say that the Khmer Rouge still maintained one division,

19, in Koh Kong and Division 17 that operated in Takeo and Kampot provinces.

"[Heng Pong and his men] want to keep living in the area... His trip to Phnom

Penh wasn't really official, it was secret. The negotiations on Phnom Aral were official

and where they learnt what the government could offer them," he said.

When asked if Pong wanted anything special, he said that a letter had been addressed

to Second Prime Minister Hun Sen for two landcruisers, the more expensive of the

two to Pong. "I haven't seen the response".

The negotiator said there were many jokes made during the meeting; stories about

the battles Pong's Division 18 had fought against the RCAF. "Pong joked that

some of his men had relatives selling gold at Tuol Tumpoumg (the Russian) market.

They also approached him to come down from the mountain," he said.

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