Khmer Rouge now assured of role in Cambodia's future
By Nate Thayer
Friday, August 30,1991
PATTAYA, Thailand — Ousted more than a decade ago as one of the age's bloodiest regimes, the Khmer Rouge is now ensured a role in Cambodia's political future and is following a careful blueprint for victory. The Communist rebel group has abandoned — for the time being —its quest to regain power through warfare in favor of seeking support for a role in an elected government, according to Khmer Rouge documents and other sources.
Talks brokered by the United Nations and world powers have made progress in recent days, but the leaders of Cambodia's warring parties failed at a four-day conference ending Thursday to forge a comprehensive peace pact to end the civil war that has wracked their homeland for 12 years.
The Khmer Rouge, two other guerrilla groups and the Vietnamese backed government they oppose remained deadlocked over a format for national elections and also appeared to be snagged on how to disarm their forces.
There were fears that the talks' failure would lead to fighting, violating the tenuous cease-fire that went into effect in June. The chief delegate for the Khmer Rouge guerrillas, Khieu Samphan, urged the United Nations to send peacekeepers to Cambodia immediately. A joint communique said Prince Norodom Sihanouk, the chief Cambodian mediator, would ask the United Nations to send at least 200 observers next month to monitor the cease-fire and halt arms shipments to the factions.
The negotiators will return to Pattaya for more talks Oct. 21-23 and meet in the Cambodian capital, Phnom Penh, in mid-November, Sihanouk said. The Vietnamese-installed Communist government of Prime Minister Hun Sen has been battling the Khmer Rouge and two non-communist groups since Vietnam invaded and ousted the Khmer Rouge in late 1978.
The major powers have agreed that the Chinese-backed Khmer Rouge will have to play some role in Cambodia's future government if there is to be any peace. A UN plan provides for the Khmer Rouge to share power with its enemies and allies in an interim period prior to UN-supervised elections. "Our army is not going to defeat the enemy by fighting them," Khmer Rouge leader Pol Pot said in a 1988 speech to his lieutenants. "These days our army goes into the interior to build up popular strength," he said. "Such popular strength is the genesis of state power."
Architect of a reign of terror in the mid-1970s that left hundreds of thousands dead, the secretive Pol Pot spoke of "going on the offensive with our themes of reasonableness, openness, and all inclusiveness."
A copy of the speech was recently made available to The Associated Press. It was authenticated by several prominent Cambodia scholars and diplomats in Bangkok who say its contents remain valid today. Pol Pot is no longer officially head of the Khmer Rouge but remains a formidable and feared shadow force within the organization. Since being overthrown, the Khmer Rouge has gained significant popular following and built a strong army. It has forced its enemies— both within Cambodia and around the world — to include it in any effective peace settlement.
Through sophisticated strategies and despite its odious record, the Khmer Rouge has rebuilt a network of support in the countryside that leaves it in a strong position to do well in any national elections, according to intelligence officials and Cambodian leaders from the other factions. "People still remember the Khmer Rouge time, but they want peace more," said Gen. Nyek Buon Chay of the guerrilla group loyal to Sihanouk. The Sihanoukists and another guerrilla faction led by ex-prime minister Son Sann — both non-communist groups supported by the United States — are loosely allied with the Khmer Rouge against the Phnom Penh government.
"People hate Pol Pot and the big leaders, but the local leaders they like. They know them, they do not treat the people badly and many people support them," Chay said in a recent interview inside Cambodia. "If the people hate the Khmer Rouge so much, why do they get bigger and stronger?" the general said.
In the 68-page speech, Pol Pot outlined a strategy under which the Khmer Rouge would push for power through elections.