Last remnants of Khmer Rouge surrender, without their leaders
By Robert Horn
December 5, 1998
BANGKOK, Thailand — The last main fighting force of the Khmer Rouge, the radical Marxist guerrillas who killed nearly two million Cambodians, has surrendered, a journalist close to the rebels said early today. Negotiators for the last band of guerrillas holed up near the Thai border met Friday with representatives of the government in Phnom Penh at Preah Vihear temple and agreed to lay down their arms, according to Nate Thayer of the Far Eastern Economic Review.
In 1997, Thayer became the first journalist allowed to interview Khmer Rouge leader Pol Pot, who had not been seen in public in nearly two decades and died in April. Thayer is one of few outsiders trusted by the guerrillas.
The surrender of the Khmer Rouge would bring to an end more than 30 years of'civil war in Cambodia that began with the Marxist guerrilla's insurgency against the government in Phnom Penh in the late 1960s.
Although the fighters' top surviving leaders, Tak Mok, Khieu Samphan and Nuon Chea were not included in the deal, they no longer command any troops. Their former followers apparently did not want to give them up. Khem Nuon, Ta Mok's chief of staff who negotiated the surrender with government officials, said simply that they are "retired" and he refused to go into details about them, Thayer said.
The Cambodian government and the United States have expressed a desire to capture all three and try them for genocide and crimes against humanity. Khem Nuon claimed he was negotiating on behalf of 5,000 remaining ragtag troops and 15,000 civilians living under Khmer Rouge control. Thayer said, however, that he believed the estimate of fighting men was inflated, and that many of the civilians are living in the Phu Noi refugee camp in Thailand."There must be unity. There is no other way. There is no way for a military solution. No weapons. Only political struggle," Thayer said Khem Nuon told him in a telephone interview. The government was represented at the negotiations by Meas Sopheas, deputy chief of staff of the Cambodian military, Thayer said.
Under the agreement, Thayer said the remaining guerrillas will join the government army and the civilians will return to Anlong Veng. the guerrillas' former stronghold in the north. While it is possible some tiny bands of guerrillas are still wandering the jungles, Thayer said he knew of no sizable Khmer Rouge fighting force that could pose a viable threat to the government.
The Khmer Rouge came to power in April 1975 by overthrowing the U.S:-backed Lon Nol government.
Under the leadership of Pol Pot, they emptied the cities and attempted to turn the country into an agrarian utopia by herding the population on to collective farms. The experiment was a disaster economically and in human terms. Nearly two million people died of execution, overwork, starvation or disease under the Khmer Rouge until they were ousted from power by a Vietnamese invasion in 1979. They have fought a guerrilla war against successive governments ever since, but wings of their movement began defecting to the government in 1996.