Khmer Rouge: Will They be Back?
Phnom Penh Post
Friday, 23 April 1993
By Nate Thayer
The abrupt withdrawal on Apr.13 of all Khmer Rouge (KR) officials from their headquarters in Phnom Penh appears to signal the end of U.N. hopes to stumble through to elections without the hardline faction breaking totally from the peace process and returning to the jungle to renew warfare.
In the early morning of Apr. 13, with no prior warning, the KR delegation of political operatives, communications specialists, bodyguards, and military liaison officers loaded their belongings into pickup trucks and left in convoy to the airport for Bangkok. A single telegram to Prince Sihanouk announced that they no longer felt that their security was sufficient in Phnom Penh, and cited strong attacks by both UNTAC chief Yasushi Akashi and State of Cambodia Prime Minister Hun Sen in the preceding days "as creating a situation which cannot offer us enough security to continue our work in Phnom Penh."
The move left diplomats and U.N. officials scrambling to figure out what it meant and contributed to an even higher level of tension that has gripped the country in recent weeks.
The withdrawal of KR officials, who have been permanently based in Phnom Penh since the signing of the peace accords in late 1991, leaves UNTAC with no official contacts with the faction, and no remaining official channels for dialogue.
A senior Khmer Rouge official, contacted outside Cambodia by the Post on Apr. 14 confirmed that "we will not come back" before elections and attacked Akashi for his statements on Apr. 11 to the meeting of the Supreme National Council. "Akashi said we were outlaws. He has no right to do that. In concrete terms, it creates an environment that is not safe to do our work in Phnom Penh anymore."
In by far the strongest terms yet, Akashi attacked the Khmer Rouge in the aftermath of the killing of seven UNTAC officials in previous days and a deterioration of stability and military activities throughout the countryside. He said: "the Party of Democratic Kampuchea risks stripping itself of the legitimacy it regained by signing those (Paris Peace) agreements and has taken a dangerous step toward outlaw status. Let us be clear what this means: nothing less than internal and international isolation. The world will not forgive the party of Democratic Kampuchea for disrupting the Cambodian elections. There should be no more sanctuaries for that party, and no more chances...that party still has the choice of allowing the elections to proceed without further attacks and making such accommodation it can with the new government."
The comments came days after State of Cambodia Prime Minister Hun Sen called for Khieu Samphan to be arrested on charges of genocide, and told a campaign crowd that he had ordered his security forces to arrest the Khmer Rouge leader. The Khmer Rouge cited these speeches as the other reason to withdraw from Phnom Penh.
The senior Khmer Rouge official confirmed that his faction believes the next weeks until elections and the period afterward will be fraught with violence and upheaval. "The military situation has evolved...elections will not solve anything now. If the Phnom Penh party wins the elections there will be a very big explosion, a popular explosion. Explosions in Phnom Penh, in the provincial towns, and combined with the military activity in the rural areas," he said.
Khmer Rouge sources have told the Post that they have begun a military offensive in the major provinces in the north and northwest, with Siem Riep and Kompong Thom being the scene of expected major fighting. The provinces of Preah Vihear, Battambang, Kompong Speu and Kompong Chhnang also will see increased military activity," the officials said.
U.N. military officials confirm an alarming pattern of Khmer Rouge attacks in Siem Riep in recent weeks that appear designed to isolate or attack the provincial capital. Rockets are now in place within easy range of the airport, and a series of military attacks on SOC positions to the north, east and west of the city show that the Khmer Rouge can now cut road links from Siem Riep to the rest of the country at any time.
Analysts believe that while the Khmer Rouge are clearly attempting to disrupt the electoral process, they may allow the elections to happen. Their objective may be to destroy the credibility of the elections, rather than the elections themselves. This would allow Prince Sihanouk, who is said to be waiting in the wings, to step in and form a new government in place of the one that evolves directly from the election results.
The Khmer Rouge argue that, if elections were free and fair, that SOC would be ousted by the Funcinpec party, led by Prince Sihanouk's son Prince Norodom Ranariddh, who fought in a loose coalition with the Khmer Rouge during the 13 year war against the Vietnamese and their installed government. Funcinpec and Sihanouk have both said they would bring the KR into a government they control in order to achieve national reconciliation. But Funcinpec, who many analysts would agree would win if a neutral political atmosphere exists for the elections, has been the target of a widespread campaign of political violence and intimidation that has left more than 100 of their party officials dead or wounded.
A SOC victory, legitimized by the international community, the Khmer Rouge fear, will result in an outpouring of economic and military support that will be designed both to strengthen their enemies and destroy them and must be prevented.
The Post has learned that there is a debate within the Khmer Rouge military and political leadership on whether the KR should launch attacks against UNTAC personnel as part of their campaign to disrupt the elections. Sources close to the group say that KR military commanders have proposed assassinations but Khieu Samphan and other leaders have argued against it fearing it will turn international opinion farther away from the group and undermine their argument that they continue to abide by the Paris agreement. But the climate of hate whipped up by the KR toward UNTAC and countries like Japan who are accused of conspiring with their hated enemy Vietnam, could contribute to KR units attacking UNTAC personnel without orders from the Khmer Rouge leadership. UNTAC has concluded that recent attack by the Khmer Rouge were definitely responsible for some of the UNTAC deaths.
While many U.N. workers and foreign governments have reacted to the deterioration in the security situation with alarm, all appear committed to go ahead with elections no matter what, even if some areas of the country will have to be abandoned. Already U.N. electoral workers have been evacuated from Kompong Thom and Kompong Cham, with electoral workers in Siem Riep pulled back to the provincial capital. Some areas will now be abandoned for good because of the security situation, they say.
But even with some areas of Cambodia now not able to participate in elections, the U.N. is banking on sufficient participation to be an accurate enough reflection of the popular will to allow the polls to be held and deemed fair.
The prospects of a SOC government legitimized by the world community is galling enough for the Khmer Rouge. But even more alarming for them, they believe that the international community is engaged in this conspiracy to eliminate them.
Japan has been a particular target of Khmer Rouge ire in recent weeks. Khieu Samphan in his interview with the Post, singled out Japan for condemnation. "HRH Prince Sihanouk has put forward a plan which is a solution to the current crisis yet UNTAC and the western powers oppose it. When I refer to the Western powers I mean to include Japan." He accused Japan of "Trying to protect the power of the Phnom Penh regime." Japan's promises of economic aid through the World Bank in March to give U.S. $65 million to stabilize Cambodia's rapidly deteriorating economy was viewed by the KR as evidence of Japan's leading role in trying to prop up the failing regime of their enemies. In a radio broadcast on Apr. 4, the Khmer Rouge accused Japan of being "part of a strategic plan to destroy the Paris accords... and eliminate the DK (Khmer Rouge)."In the broadcast they warned that the "elections will intensify the flames of war."
In a captured Khmer Rouge propaganda leaflet dated Apr. 10, the Khmer Rouge linked Japan to their old enemy, the United States. "The Americans are shrouded under the UNTAC label and are borrowing Akashi's legs-Japan-to play a role in public, but in fact the Americans have their foot on the pedal in order to invade Cambodia again."
While they see Japan as poised to inject funds to stabilize the regime of their enemies , they point to other countries-Australia and France in particular-as prepared to help create a new army designed to eliminate or marginalize the KR military threat. All three countries have shown a willingness to have good relations with the current authorities in Phnom Penh, and are said to be vying to play significant roles in a post-election Cambodia. In addition, other major parties including most of the members of the U.N. security council are said to be willing to strengthen any government that emerges from the election process, if the polls are deemed reasonably free and fair.
It is known that UNTAC had put together an operation plan for the creation of a new army immediately after the elections in an attempt to unify the various armed groups that now roam the countryside without any real central control. But the army would also serve to address any military threat from those who refuse to recognize the legitimacy of the new government.
With the crumbling of nearly all the strategic and the tactical united front allies that were the key to sustaining the group since 1979, the KR is now as isolated as it has ever been since their overthrow from power. If the group were to prevent or disrupt elections, some analysts believe that the Khmer Rouge's scenario could well come true and the international community would be willing to give their enemies the means to destroy them. "There are a lot of influential people around the world who have put their reputations on the line to put together this peace accord. If the Khmer Rouge destroy it, some would certainly be in the mood to take revenge," said one diplomat here. But nevertheless, most countries continue to favor an attempt to bring the KR into a government of national reconciliation led by Prince Sihanouk that is formed after elections, despite their refusal to participate in the polls, as a means to put an end to the years of bloody conflict. But if this does not come to pass, the Khmer Rouge may indeed find themselves confronted militarily once again, but this time with the support of the international community, largely their allies during the war against the Vietnamese occupation, now siding against them