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What lies behind KR's moves

What lies behind KR's moves

Stephen Heder, an expert on the guerrillas, gives his interpretations of

the current situation.Interview

By Denise Heywood

What do you see as the future aims

of the Khmer Rouge in the next few weeks and in the longer term?


want to get in a better position to do political organizing among the peasantry.

To the extent that they can achieve a cease-fire that will allow their armed

forces to function politically in the countryside, then that's a goal for them.

They can establish a presence at the center of power and use that as a way of

blocking the efforts of their enemies to prevent them from organizing in the


Everything ultimately revolves around that. They see that as the key to

power. In that sense the military effort serves only political ends. At the same

time they genuinely believe the other side only understands the language of


What about the kidnappings, are they new terrorist


The practice of taking hostages now is similar to the

tactic of taking Untac hostages. It was not set up as a policy to take hostages

as such, but just to reduce Untac's ability to gather information and maintain

access within their areas of control. It probably reflects a policy line at the

top which allows those at the bottom to detain people. I would be surprised if

the upper levels organized hostage-taking. If that were the case, we'd see more

of it. It is not organized terrorism as such. Maybe it wasn't NADK who took

these hostages. It could be other guerrilla groups. I am cautious.

What is their strategy now?

It is to surround the cities from

the countryside. It's the same strategy as before. It's a simple and

straightforward quasi-Maoist strategy.

Ultimately, do they want to take power?

Ultimately, yes. All

political groups do. Having taken power they want to make sure that nobody else

shares that power.

Do they want to be part of the government?

Only in order to be

able to prevent that government from preventing them from mobilizing the

countryside. They still believe that only socialism, as they understand it, can

save Cambodia. It may have to be delayed. There may have to be a few

intermediate steps that they didn't take the last time in order to achieve that

ultimate goal.

The analogy I use is the literature about Japanese

soldiers who, years after WWII, were still hidden in the jungle. But they had

radios. They reconstructed reality in such a way as to convince themselves that

all this stuff was unreal. The Khmer Rouge leadership has a system of control

which also prevents them from having a clear understanding of what's going on in

the world or what's going on in Cambodia. It's the cocoon in which they encase

themselves and those under their control. Isolation from the outside world.

That's internalized. Then they externalize that on others.

Do they want to establish a peaceful regime?

There's domestic

peace and there's international peace. They would still be attempting to bring

about mass mobilization on the basis of their class analysis of Cambodia

society. They would be promoting social conflict. It's hard to say, in this

hypothetical case, that it would be as violent as the last time around. History

could never repeat itself so neatly. But if the question is, would they promote

violent social conflict, yes, they would use violence as a means of settling

political problems after taking power.

Would people die? Yes. Would it

be violence and death on the scale of 75-78? The reality is that the factors

that made it possible for them to take complete power in 1975 probably do not


When they took power they were not terribly strong, probably

20,000 troops. They did it by deference. People deferred to them. In the Untac

period we calculated that their armed force was about 17,000 before the Paris

Peace accords. Then they self- demobilized. I interviewed a lot of

self-demobilizing NADK defectors. Of these 17,000, not everybody was armed. They

didn't have enough arms. It goes against what we've been led to believe about

massive arms caches. They don't want too many people running around with guns.

Then they began remobilizing after that. They may be close to that number again,

in spite of demobilization after the elections. I would guess they have 15,000

troops. They are not capable of undergoing rapid expansion. They can continue to

replace their losses but will only grow slowly. The Khmer Rouge want peace if

peace means that their ability to conduct political organizing in the rural

areas will thereby be enhanced. The immediate goal is to enhance their own

political position via military means. Their real strategy is to organize a

return to support in the countryside. Cambodian politics is not about class

struggle but about personal networks, fought out on an ideological basis.

How are they still funding their efforts?

Same old way.

Logging, gems. Money stashed away, which has gone on the disruptions in the

north, at Anglong Veng, but I have no idea how much.

How do see the future?

[The NADK think that:] Cambodia is like

an old rotten boat: if it were possible to take it out of the water, dry it out

in the sun, patch it and caulk it, they might be able to put it back in the

water. But we're not going to allow them to take the boat out of the water, and

even if they get it out of the water, we won't let them patch it. It will always

be full of holes, and if they try and put it back in the water, it's going to


They can cause enough problems to delay and divert economic

recovery, for long enough that at some unforeseen point down the line, some

juncture of events will intervene which will allow them to make an advance. It's

revolutionary optimism. They are tenacious, a word Pol Pot loves to use about

himself. Part of their obsession is being more tenacious than the Vietnamese,

more tenacious than everybody. "Our moment will come." In Cambodia the state is

weak and the society is weak. It's vulnerable to international conjunctures of

events. If there is a complete realignment in somebody's interest to support the

KR again, maybe they will get their chance. It might be in 10 years, or 20

years. It will probably be never. But it might happen. From Pol Pot's and Nuon

Chea's point of view, as long as they maintain a leadership apparatus, and the

ability to reconstitute an armed force, it might happen again.

We are

already seeing investment money going to Vietnam. Cambodia is still a risk. Why

would anybody put their money in Cambodia, when they could put it in Vietnam, or

Laos or Thailand or China? Anywhere except Cambodia where the risk is so


The Khmer Rouge are difficult to eliminate. You can successfully

re-incorporate elements of an insurgent movement back into the policy in such a

way that they raise certain social issues. We have the phenomenon in Cambodia of

many post-Leninist regimes that nobody is raising social issues, such as

standing up for the peasantry. They are ignored in the race to join world

capitalism and the world consumer society. The CPP can perform this role. The

socialists perform this role. Difficult to get the scary coalition between

ex-communists and radical nationalists. But the Khmer Rouge can never convince

people that they're not violent.

US academic Stephen Heder is attached at

London's School of Oriental and African Studies and is writing a PhD on the

Khmer Rouge. He was Untac's Deputy Director of Information and Education from

April 1992-September 1993.

He speaks Khmer, Thai and Mandarin, and has

been visiting Cambodia since 1969.


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