POL POT: THE END
Far Eastern Economic Review
By Nate Thayer
August 7, 1997
In a stunning journalistic achievement, REVIEW correspondent Nate Thayer comes face-to-face with the elusive Pol Pot, architect of Cambodia’s killing fields. In a story packed with exclusive photos, Thayer describes Pol Pot’s jungle “trial,” and reveals the turmoil within the Khmer Rouge. Separate stories profile Pol Pot, introduce the new Khmer Rouge leadership, and shed new light on Cambodia’s deadly July coup and the suspected drug baron who financed it.
BROTHER NUMBER ZERO
On Other Pages:
19: Pol Pot Unmasked
21: New Face of the Khmer Rouge
22: Casualties of Hun Sen’s Coup
23: The Money Man Behind the Coup
24: On History’s Front Line
Pol Pot caused the deaths of more than a million Cambodians. But when he turned on his longtime military commander, Ta Mok, that was one Cambodian too many
By Nate Thayer in Anlong Veng, Cambodia
After a series of furtive rendezvous, using coded messages over mobile phones, I slipped into one of the most impenetrable, malarial-ridden and landmine-strewn jungles of the world: Khmer Rouge-controlled northern Cambodia. I was hoping to interview Pol Pot, one of the century’s most notorious and elusive mass murderers.
What I did not fathom, as I entered the Khmer Rouge stronghold of Anlong Veng at 12:12 p.m. on July 25, was that I was about to witness nothing less than history.
“Long live! Long live! Long live the new strategy!” hundreds of voices chanted in unison. The clenched fists of the crowds pumped toward the sky, as a smiling middle-aged Khmer Rouge cadre led me toward an open-air mass meeting hall. Old artillery pieces and a captured Russian tank stood nearby.
“Crush! Crush! Crush! Pol Pot and his clique!” shouted the crowd on cue as we approached, their fists striking down towards the ground.
There, slumped in a simple wooden chair, grasping a long bamboo cane and a rattan fan, an anguished old man, frail and struggling to maintain his dignity, was watching his life vision crumble in utter, final defeat.
This was how the “people’s tribunal’ began for Pol Pot, reviled around the world for personally orchestrating a reign of terror that left more than a million human beings dead and shattered the lives of many millions more.
The crude podium held a microphone, and crackling loudspeakers—powered by a car battery lying on the earthen floor—began to spew humiliating public denunciations of the long-time Khmer Rouge leader.
A shocking number of participants stood on crude wooden stumps, sat in home-made wheelchairs, or were missing eyes—sacrifices to the revolutionary cause of Pol Pot. Others, their arms blown off by landmines, were unable to join the frequent clapping as speaker after speaker denounced the man once venerated as “Brother Number One.”
“Our ultimate goal today is that the international community should understand that we are no longer Khmer Rouge and we are not Pol Potists!,” roared Ta Neou, the governor of the approximately 60,000 civilians who live in the area, which was under Pol Pot’s control until weeks ago.
The carefully orchestrated performance evoked the image of a grainy, black-and-white film clip from China’s Cultural Revolution. But the message was starkly different. “Long live the emergence of the democracy movement!” shouted individuals in the crowd, periodically interrupting leaders offering carefully crafted speeches at the microphone. A chorus would repeat the slogan, followed by prolonged applause by the roughly 500 participants. “Crush! Crush! Crush! Pol Pot and his murderous clique!”
Pol Pot sat alone, near three other manacled loyalists. Many in the crowd of women, children, and uniformed guerrillas seemed more interested at gazing at the first Westerner they had ever seen than in watching the traumatized old man sitting alone in a chair.
Each speaker, seemingly chosen to represent a sector of society—a farmer, an intellectual, a soldier, a woman—got up to denounce and humiliate Pol Pot “and his clique.”
Pol Pot often seemed close to tears as the vitriol was unleashed. In contrast, three younger army commanders put on trial alongside him had menacing, almost arrogant expressions, staring coldly into the eyes of the speakers, the crowd and the visiting reporter.
“We have sacrificed everything for the sake of the movement,” Ta Neou continued, “Our parents and all of us are children of peasants and farmers, we have sacrificed everything for the sake of the movement, but at the end we kill each other.”
Pol Pot, who ruled Cambodia for more than three years and ruled the Khmer Rouge for more than three decades, is genuinely finished. He has been denounced and imprisoned by his own movement. Not for the 1975-1978 Cambodian genocide, but for turning on his own comrades in an attempted purge in June, according to speakers at his trial.
Those commanders, led by longtime military commander Ta Mok, struck back and took Pol Pot prisoner after the purge failed. The tribunal sentenced Pol Pot to life imprisonment, but ruled out turning him over to international courts, where he could face charges of crimes against humanity.
The Khmer Rouge of Anlong Veng have good reason to try and distance themselves from the notorious Pol Pot. They want to attract international support for their struggle to unseat Cambodian premier Hun Sen. That is why they let a foreign reporter witness the show trial, the first time a journalist had entered Anlong Veng and left alive.
Yet lengthy interviews with Khmer Rouge cadre left little doubt that his ouster was authentic. Still, the cadres clearly saw it as a tragedy, and continued to treat the 72-year-old Pol Pot with Gentle respect.
The fall of Pol Pot underlines the view that the Khmer Rouge movement that ruled Cambodia in the 1970’s essentially no longer exists. The original leaders have largely been replaced by younger ones less steeped in communist ideology, and the movement has fractured into numerous factions, many of whom are allied with the mainstream political parties contesting power in Phnom Penh.
“It no longer makes any sense whatsoever to call whatever remains a Khmer Rouge movement,” says Stephen Heder, a Cambodian Scholar at the University of London’s School of Advanced International Studies. “Because of the realignment of forces over the last several years, the concept of a Khmer Rouge movement as we know it no longer has any meaning.”
But that doesn’t mean the Khmer Rouge have become irrelevant in Cambodia. The aggressive courting of Khmer Rouge factions by Cambodia’s rival premiers, Hun Sen and Prince Norodom Ranariddh, was central to the July 5-6 coup in Phnom Penh. In fact, the REVIEW has learned, the Khmer Rouge finalized their alliance with Ranariddh’s Funcinpec party on July 4. Worried that the balance of power would be tipped in his rival’s favour, Hun Sen ousted Ranariddh the next day.
Photo: Nate Thayer
Pol Pot also opposed those negotiations, and it led to his downfall, according to Khmer Rouge cadre interviewed in Anlong Veng. Virtually the entire leadership favoured a political deal with the royalist Funcinpec, but Pol Pot was opposed, said Gen. Khmer Nuon, who is now the Khmer Rouge’s army chief of staff.
“Domestically and internationally, Pol Pot has his own personal problems to take care of,” Khem Nuon said, referring to Pol Pot’s blood-soaked reputation. “He has no way out. That is why he keeps dragging this movement toward the darkness.”
The visit to Anlong Veng opened an unprecedented window into the inner workings of one of the world’s most secretive guerrilla movements. The Khmer Rouge have splintered dramatically since July 1996, when forces in western Cambodia, representing almost half the movement, broke with Pol Pot’s northern forces headquartered at Anlong Veng. The western split was headed by Ieng Sary, Pol Pot’s brother-in-law and longtime comrade-in-arms.
Khem Nuon said the western split was aimed against Pol Pot himself, but the 72-year-old leader blamed his top leaders—Ta Mok, Nuon Chea, and Son Sen—for losing the west by failing to heal the rift. “ So Pol Pot asked Mao—over there,” Khem Nuon explained, pointing to a young Khmer Rouge cadre standing listening to the interview,” to shoot Ta Mok and burn him—last October—to leave no evidence.”
The grim-faced young cadre, who looked capable of such a deed, nodded in agreement with his commander. But he didn’t carry out Pol Pot’s order. Because Ta Mok, who is known to the outside world as “The Butcher,” is immensely popular with the troops and civilians under his control. So Much so, Khem Nuon said, that Pol Pot saw him as a threat. “All the combatants here are under Ta Mok and they really like him a lot because he is so helpful to them in terms of standard of living. He built roads, bridges, dams within this area,” Khem Nuon said. “This is the reason Pol Pot wanted to get rid of Ta Mok.”
Pol Pot turned to two senior military field commanders, Gen. Sarouen and Gen. San, and attempted to consolidate power against Ta Mok. He called a mass meeting on February 25 of this year, and had them declared the new political and military leaders, replacing Ta Mok, Khem Nuon said. “What is the main cause that steered our people to rise up against Pol Pot? One, the leadership and the grip on power by Pol Pot was so long. All the power was within his hands,” Khem Nuon said. “Pol pot took decisions without even consulting the top leadership.”
About the same time, according to Cambodian government sources and diplomats, secret negotiations accelerated between envoys of Prince Ranariddh and elements of the Khmer Rouge in Anlong Veng. Most of these efforts were conducted by Ta Mok loyalists—often behind Pol Pot’s back—and the top royalist military commander, Gen. Nyek Bun Chhay. By May, the faction agreed in principle to join in alliance.
Increasingly isolated, Pol Pot launched a desperate attempt on June 9 to scuttle the peace deal by purging Ta Mok and other top leaders. That night, longtime defence minister Son Sen and 14 of his relatives, including a five-year-old child, were shot dead by Sarouen’s men, according to both Khmer Rouge and intelligence sources. “On the 9th of June at 12:15 a.m., Pol Pot issued a direct order to take two Toyota pick-up trucks loaded with 20-30 soldiers to kill Mr. Son Sen,” said Khem Nuon.
The killings sparked several days of turmoil, with commanders fleeing into the jungle in disarray. But they rallied behind Ta Mok and trapped Pol Pot and his band of 300 remaining supporters on June 15, Khem Nuon said. Four days later, they had surrendered.
With Pol Pot neutralized, the remaining Khmer Rouge leadership moved rapidly forward to finalize a secret, tactical, political and military alliance with Ranariddh’s political faction. The two factions were allies against Hun Sen’s Phnom Penh government in a decade-long guerrilla war before Cambodia’s 1991 peace treaty.
The deal was closed July 4 in Anlong Veng. Hun Sen, learning about Funcinpec’s new alliance through his agents, launched his deadly coup the next morning, according to Cambodian political cadres and Asian intelligence sources. It has tipped Cambodia, which enjoyed four years of relative peace after 1993 United nations-sponsored elections, back into the throes of the warfare that seems to define this nation of 10 million people.
Hun Sen has claimed the entire tribunal was stage-managed by Pol Pot himself. Khem Nuon paints a very different picture, but he did say that Pol Pot had ‘consented’ to having a foreign reporter witness the mass meeting, as a way of acknowledging his guilt for moving against his comrades.
“ Pol Pot did himself confess to me clearly, after his arrest,” Khem Nuon said. “ When I met him the first time, he embraced me and burst into tears and said: ‘It is the right thing comrade that this has happened,’ and then he cried. It was on June 21, 1997, and he told me: ‘I am wrong, comrade, all the mistakes were made by me, alone,’ and then he cried.”
“ Pol Pot told me that this is the end of his life, he has nothing left, but he begged me to allow him to live,” Khem Nuon continued. “ I also want to make clear that if Pol Pot was vested with any credibility or respect, he would not have shown up and let you see him like you just did today.”
: I told him this morning that you were going to be here,” to witness his condemnation, Khem Nuon told the REVIEW. “ I told him that we want to prove to the world that we no longer want to associate ourselves with him. Then he consented.”
As the “People’s Tribunal of Anlong Veng” continued into its second hour, the new leaders somberly paced on the outskirts of the crowd, concerned by the deteriorating health of a now clearly weak and traumatized Pol Pot. Guerrilla officials acknowledged that Pol Pot suffered from serious heart disease and high blood pressure long before the events of recent days.
Khem Nuon said relatives and friends of those killed on June 9-10 wanted the blood of Pol Pot and his co-defendants San, Khon, and Sarouen—said to have carried out the murders on his orders. “ You notice that here today nobody was allowed to carry a weapon to this meeting, otherwise they would have been killed by the mob already,” Khem Nuon said.
But the cadre who overthrew Pol Pot seemed anguished as they watched the white-haired old man, who was dressed in loose cotton clothes with a blue-and-white Cambodian scarf looped around his neck. Confusion and sadness were etched on men who had spent their entire adult lives following Pol Pot from Cambodia’s jungles to its capital and back again.
“ We have put an end to the leadership which has betrayed our organization and the people,” Mak Ben, a bespectacled French-educated economist, dressed in a green Chinese-style military uniform, said from the podium. “ They are completely gone, as of right now, the Pol Pot regime has ended.”
“ Having acknowledged the betrayal of our group in recent months by Pol Pot and his clique,” the loudspeaker roared into the nearby forest, then Pol Pot’s crimes were read out. They included the murder of Son Sen, the attempted murder and ‘detention’ of Ta Mok and Nuon Chea, and “destroying the policy of national reconciliation,” a reference to the attempt to block the Funcinpec deal.
“These are the criminal acts—the betrayal by Pol Pot and his clique—against the people, the armed forces, and our cadre. In conclusion, we all decide to condemn and sentence this clique to life imprisonment.”
He immediately was helped up, unable to walk unassisted, by a guard in Chinese-style military fatigues. “ get someone under his other arm, get him more help,” Khem Nuon ordered. Patting his heart, Khem Nuon added: “ I am worried that he may die from the stress.”
Some people respectfully bowed, as if to royalty, as Pol Pot walked 25 meters to a waiting vehicle. “ I said what I said with a very heavy heart,” said Tep Kunnal, an emerging political leader, as he walked slowly away with his head bowed after denouncing Pol Pot. “ It is very, very difficult for me, but it had to be done. Before there were two dangers for Cambodia. Pol Pot and the Vietnamese puppet Hun Sen. Now there is only one.”
The cadres suggested that I ask Pol Pot questions while he was led away, but balked at translating when told the questions I wanted to pose. “ I cannot ask such a question to the leaders. You must ask them in Khmer yourself. It is better.”
Pol Pot, perhaps never to be seen alive again, was helped into a Toyota Landcruiser with tinted windows—captured booty from UN peacekeeping soldiers prior to the 1993 elections. Seconds after the trial ended, a torrential rain began.
POL POT: THE END
POL POT UNMASKED: He was obsessed with secrecy and total control
By Nate Thayer in Bangkok, Thailand
Far Eastern Economic Review
August 7, 1997
Pol Pot, whose name is synonymous with the Cambodian genocide, exercized total control over the Khmer Rouge for more than three decades from behind a wall of impenetrable secrecy.
By putting him on trial, his former comrades-in-arms have unmasked a man who shunned exposure, even when he was premier of Cambodia. They have also broken the vice-like grip on the movement he retained through a combination of charisma and utter ruthlessness.
Born to a peasant family in Kampong Thom on May 18t, 1925, Saloth Sar—Pol Pot’s real name—was educated at a Buddhist monastery before entering technical school in Phnom Penh. His clandestine life began in his teens, when he joined the anti-French resistance movement in Indochina during World War ll. By 1946, he was a member of the underground Indochinese Communist Party.
In 1949, he won a scholarship to study radio electronics in Paris, where he was active in radical student politics. His studies, apparently, took a back seat and he failed his exams three years in a row. He spent one summer picking grapes in Tito’s Yugoslavia, where he may have acquired his radical communism that challenged Soviet-style orthodoxy.
It was also during his sojourn in France that he charmed Khieu Ponnary, whose sister was married to Ieng Sary, another future Khmer Rouge leader.
Returning to Phnom Penh with no degree, Pol Pot taught at a private secondary school and wrote articles for left-wing publications that he signed, “The Original Khmer.” His underground activities went farther than that, however. He became a senior member of the Cambodian Communist Party at its founding congress in 1960, and was named secretary in 1963 after the mysterious death of Tou Samouth.
It was then that his secret life became his whole life. Prince Norodom Sihanouk, no longer content to belittle the Cambodian communists as “me Khmer Rouges”—“My Red Khmers”—was stepping up police pressure. Pol Pot and his comrades fled into the jungle, leaving no trace. “When a secret is kept secret, 50% of the battle is won,” Pol Pot once said.
Twelve years later, after fighting first Sihanouk’s army and then American-backed troops of Gen. Lon Nol, the battle was won. On April 17, 1975, Pol Pot’s army of peasants, clad in simple black-cotton uniforms, marched into Phnom Penh. Finally, Pol Pot could put his ideas into action.
The result was one of the most brutal and disastrous social experiments in history. After emptying the capital at gunpoint, Pol Pot’s Khmer Rouge tried to transform Cambodia into a communal agrarian utopia, but instead turned the country into a vast slave-labour camp. More than one million Cambodians—out of a population of some 7 million—were executed, tortured, or starved to death under the Khmer Rouge reign of terror.
The educated were the first to be slain. But later, as the reign of terror turned on itself, waves of purges decimated the ranks of Khmer Rouge cadres. Anyone who could pose a threat to Pol Pot was killed.
Through it all, Pol Pot stayed behind his mask. When it was announced in 1976 that Pol Pot had been named premier of “Democratic Kampuchea,” as the country was renamed, American intelligence officials—who had been fighting the Khmer Rouge for years—could not figure out who he was.
“Secret work is fundamental,” Nuon Chea, the party’s number 2, told a visiting Danish delegation in 1977, the only time Nuon Chea was seen in public.
Nevertheless, a personality cult started to spring up around him in May 1978, pushed by cadres eager to show their loyalty as purges spiraled. Tens of thousands of Khmer Rouge cadres were executed as Pol Pot eliminated competition. His power was clearly growing, Chandler says: whereas he was addressed as ‘Elder Brother Pol” or “Brother Number One” soon after taking power, that gradually changed to “Uncle Secretary” or “party centre” to “Leading Apparatus” to, finally, the “High Organization.”
Pol Pot’s radical ideas were nourished by a five month sojourn in China in 1965-66, when the country was in ferment leading up to the Great proletarian Cultural Revolution. His admiration for the Gang of Four was mutual: Pol Pot went to China after his 1975 victory and met Mao Zedong, who congratulated him on his speedy revolution.
While Pol Pot’s thinking may have been influenced by his foreign experiences, at its root it is deeply Khmer. And in Pol Pot’s case, that means a visceral hatred of Vietnam, the much larger neighbor that seized the Mekong Delta from the medieval Khmer empire. Egged on by that HATRED, Khmer Rouge guerrillas carried out raids into southern Vietnam, triggering the December 1978 Vietnamese invasion.
Pol Pot again fled into the jungle, after ruling for three years, eight months, and 20 days. Reverting to form, he took the code name “81.” Until July 25, 1997, he hadn’t been seen by foreign journalists since 1979, when he was filmed by Naoki Mabuchi, a Japanese photographer with close ties to the Khmer Rouge.
Pol Pot officially retired from his official posts in 1985, but there was never any question that remained in total control of the movement. Cadres who have heard him speak say he is an amazing orator, making speeches so resonant in revolutionary and patriotic spirit that they bring his listeners to tears. Yet he refrained from appearing publicly.
Now, it appears Pol Pot has lost both his mask and his powers. That doesn’t auger well for the movement he helped found, and which is now in danger of segmenting further. As Nuon Chea said in his 1977 interview: “The leadership apparatus must be defended at any price…as long as the leadership is there, the party will not die.”
POL POT: THE END
NEXT GENERATION: Khmer Rouge put on a new face
By Nate Thayer in Anlong Veng, Cambodia
Far Eastern Economic Review
August 7, 1997
A tiger, according to Gen. Khem Nuon, can indeed change its stripes. And if foreigners doubt that the Khmer Rouge movement has done just that, he said, they should come and see for themselves in the jungles of Northern Cambodia.
That is the message that the movement’s new military chief-of-staff wanted to send in an unprecedented interview at his headquarters of Anlong Veng. “ From now on, we are going to open this area free for foreigners, so they can see the real facts about our movement,” he said.
Anyone who accepts that invitation will find a mixed picture. Clearly, the purge of Pol Pot and a generational transfer of leadership has profoundly changed the secretive movement. In the interview, Khem Nuon spoke with openness about the past “crimes” and future plans, and he showed no interest in communist ideology.
At the same time, however, the group continues to sound the drum of rabid anti-Vietnamese ultra nationalism, and remains bent on the overthrow of Cambodian premier Hun Sen. Some of the older leaders who orchestrated the 1975-78 Cambodian reign of terror still wield influence, and younger cadres talk of “democracy” rang hollow against the backdrop of a Cultural revolution-style show trial.
The movement is opening up for a reason: It wants to build alliances both within the country and overseas for its crusade against Hun Sen and the “Vietnamese aggressors” that it claims are still occupying the country. Specifically, it wants to join forces with Funcinpec—whose leader co-Premier Prince Norodom Ranariddh, was ousted by Hun Sen in a July 5-6 coup—as well as with other political parties opposed to Hun Sen.
But Khem Nuon and other new leaders are aware that if they’re going to have any hope of winning Western support, they have to break with the movement’s blood-soaked past. “ The reason we put an end to the Pol Pot regime is because we want the international community to see and help us in our struggle with other movements in order to fight against Hun Sen and the Vietnamese,” Khem Nuon said.
To an international community that equates the Khmer Rouge with genocide, it’s going to be a hard sell. But Khem Nuon says the Khmer Rouge—or, more precisely, Pol Pot’s Democratic Kampuchea Party—no longer exists. The movement is now called the National Solidarity Party.
“ If they still call me Khmer Rouge they haven’t seen what I have just done. I am the one who destroyed Pol Pot, who has been in power for many years,” he said after the group’s longtime leader was publicly denounced. “ Even the United States and the Vietnamese failed to get rid of him, but I can. So how can you call me the Khmer Rouge?”
In an unprecedented admission, he said that “crimes” had been committed during the Khmer Rouge’s nearly four year rule of Cambodia. But even when pressed, he would not go much farther, Blaming individuals rather than the group. “ We do condemn those who have committed crimes, which were not right,” Khem Nuon said. “ At the time I committed no crimes, only Pol Pot and some of his close people. Now they are gone, while Pol Pot is arrested. Some of them have defected to the Vietnamese side, and the rest I don’t know where they are.”
According to Khem Nuon and other Cadres, the movement is now led by a nine-member standing committee that includes only one member of the old guard: Khieu Samphan, the head of the committee, a diplomat who for years has been the public face of the Khmer Rouge. Khem Nuon, who’s aged about 50, is the second-ranking member, but his power is bolstered by his being the top military figure.
Yet Khem Nuon freely acknowledges that older leaders such as Gen. Ta Mok and Nuon Chea, who were key members of the murderous 1975-78 Khmer Rouge regime, still have a say in “all important matters.” Khem Nuon, who did military training in China, is the right-hand-man of the one-legged Ta Mok. “I’m the one who is in charge of the armed forces right now, but I keep consulting him all the time,” he said.
Once Hun Sen is driven out, the National Solidarity party would be happy to participate in democratic elections, Khem Nuon said. Tep Kunnal, another top-ranking standing committee figure, also spoke of liberal democracy as desirable. It seems that the new generation is driven less by communist ideology than by the ultra nationalism that has long under laid politics in a country squeezed between more powerful neighbors.
Khem Nuon claims there are 10,000 guerrillas and 60,000 civilians loyal to the movement around Anlong Veng. “Our movement is pure and clean,” he said. “ I hope the international community will help us.” For starters, he urged, “ Please ask them to stop calling us ‘Pol Pot and the Khmer Rouge.’”
POL POT: THE END
Harrowing Tales: Hun Sen’s forces torture and kill former allies
By Nate Thayer in Samrong, Cambodia and Bangkok
Far Eastern Economic Review
August 7, 1997
At the jungle hide-out along the Thai-Cambodian border, Gen. Serei Kosal, stuttering and wide-eyed with fear, relates five-days of flight from Phnom Penh through the Cambodian countryside. He was one of the top military officers targeted for arrest by Hun Sen, Cambodia’s second prime minister, who deposed the first prime minister, prince Norodom Ranariddh, in the July 5-6 coup.
Gen. Serei fled the capital on the morning of July 5 by commandeering a military aircraft to the western city of Battambang. From there, he travelled three days by foot with no food until he reached resistance-controlled zones along the Thai border. Claiming 700 troops under his command, he vowed to organize guerrilla war.
He was lucky to have escaped: The coup left scores dead, including two of his fellow generals, and hundreds arrested. Thousands of others are fleeing or in hiding.
“ We need a safe haven to protect our people from killing and arrest,” said Serei, dressed in borrowed shorts and shoeless. “ Hun Sen is hunting down our people, killing them, arresting them. Why hasn’t the world condemned the coup makers and acted in support of democracy and against the dictators?”
His bewilderment is shared by other Ranariddh loyalists who are flocking to north and northwest Cambodia to seek sanctuary and organize guerrilla resistance. They are joined daily in these jungles and remote villages near the Thai border by opposition-party members, journalists, and other civilians. Many relate harrowing tales of witnessing summary executions, atrocities, and the arrest of anyone suspected of affiliation with Ranariddh’s Funcinpec party.
From their accounts and evidence gathered by human rights officials, a grim picture is emerging of torture and summary execution by Hun Sen and his cohorts, many of whom are former Khmer Rouge soldiers who took part in the “killing fields” of the late 1970’s. Equally disturbing are allegations that foreign embassies refused help to Cambodians who feared for their lives in the first days after the coup when many of the killings occurred.
International human rights officials in Phnom Penh say they had confirmed 36 executions by mid-July and were verifying a dozen others. “ We have had many cases of bodies found, hands tied behind their back, with bullets in the head. But sometimes we arrive too late for the bodies and there are only ashes. They are literally incinerating the evidence,” said a senior Western human rights investigator in Phnom Penh. United Nations officials say they know of another 30 Funcinpec supporters who were tortured and forced to drink sewage.
Investigators say at least 617 people have been detained in Phnom Penh and another 271 are known to have been arrested outside the capital. They say the evidence beginning to trickle in is “only the tip of the iceberg,” but includes specific information linking Hun Sen’s top lieutenants to unspeakable acts of torture and murder.
Gen. Chau Sambath, a military advisor to Ranariddh, was captured while trying to flee the capital by motorcycle. According to human rights officials and Cambodian intelligence officers, Sambath was taken to Hun Sen’s personal compound on July 8 where he was tortured, then executed. The sources say his fingernails were pulled off and his tongue ripped out before he was killed by Gen. Him Bun Heang, chief of security for Hun Sen and head of his personal bodyguard. “ They wanted to know the military radio frequencies of Funcinpec leaders, so they tortured him at Hun Sen’s house,” said a senior Cambodian military intelligence officer. “ They pulled his tongue out of his head with pliers when he wouldn’t talk.”
Another Funcinpec general, secretary of state at the Ministry of Interior Ho Sok, was executed on the grounds of the ministry by the bodyguards of National Police Chief Gen. Hok Lundy, a loyalist of Hun Sen. According to Amnesty International, Ho Sok was arrested “ while attempting to find a country that would give him asylum.” He had taken refuge at the embassy of an Asean country, but was expelled at the request of Hun Sen’s aides and arrested as he drove to the luxury Cambodiana hotel, where many foreigners and Funcinpec officials had fled in the days after the coup. A Ministry of Interior spokesman confirmed the killing, saying it was done by “people who were angry with him.”
At least five bodyguards of Gen. Nyek Bun Chhay, the commander of Funcinpec forces, had their eyes gouged out while they were under interrogation, then executed, according to Western human rights officials and Cambodian military sources. After 14 days of flight through the countryside Nyek Bun Chhay has since arrived at the jungle headquarters and commands the resistance army.
Hundreds have already arrived in Thailand, including scores of Funcinpec officials, at least 24 members of parliament, journalists associated with independent newspapers, and officials of other political parties.
“The soldiers came to my house with rocket launchers looking for my steering committee members, putting their pictures on TV and posted in military offices,” said Sam Rainsy, Cambodia’s most prominent opposition politician and head of the Khmer Nation party. “ There is a campaign to destroy the KNP. The soldiers told people at my office ‘ We will not even let a baby asleep in a hammock stay alive.’ This is real Khmer Rouge language We cannot operate anymore. Democracy is finished.” More than 1000 of his party workers are now amassed at a jungle encampment along the Thai border under the protection of Funcinpec troops still loyal to Ranariddh.
“Killing and repression are going on on a very large scale. Hun Sen is a murderous prime minister,” Ranariddh told the REVIEW in Bangkok on July 20. “ I hope that the U.S. congress will call for a cessation of all aid to Hun Sen.”
But international condemnation of the coup has been decidedly muted, with the major donor countries still considering whether to support a government controlled by Hun Sen. If he maintains a credible coalition by co-opting ministers from Ranariddh’s Funcinpec party, he may win that support.
The ambivalence of major Western governments was foreshadowed by the reaction of their embassies in Phnom Penh during the coup—a response that has been criticized bitterly by Cambodian and human rights officials. They say the American and Australian embassies refused entry to Cambodian government officials who sought refuge on embassy grounds. The U.S. embassy also “flatly refused” requests of political asylum for some members of parliament or to issue them with emergency visas.
“We begged visas from Western embassies. We begged them to open their gates for people who were clearly targeted for persecution, and the Americans, the Australians, flatly said no,” said a foreign human rights official in Phnom Penh. “ These are the embassies who have pushed people to exercise their rights, have said they supported human rights and free expression and opposition politics, but when these very values are trampled upon and those who exercised their rights were targeted, they did nothing to help.”
American embassy sources said they had no clearance from Washington to offer political asylum and claim they were not approached directly by any Cambodians for sanctuary on embassy grounds.
The U.S. also set up a sanctuary on the grounds of the Cambodiana hotel in downtown Phnom Penh during the fighting that raged in the city. Some Cambodian parliamentarians who have since fled the country said they were denied access to the sanctuary in the hotel’s ballroom. The correspondent for Voice of America, Cambodian citizen Som Sattana, was refused access to the ballroom by embassy personnel, despite having received death threats, according to human rights workers. He has since left the country.
“We set up a U.S. embassy reception centre at the Cambodiana hotel early on Sunday (July 6) for American citizens,” said an embassy spokeswoman, who added: “ We were not open for visas during the fighting.”
The able to flee are regrouping in newly formed resistance zones in northern Cambodia. Several thousand heavily armed troops backed by tanks and artillery control a swath of territory across several provinces abutting the Thai border, including the contested northwestern provincial capital of Samrong.
Hundreds of Funcinpec members, exhausted from days of trekking across the country to reach Funcinpec-controlled areas, spoke of being hunted by Hun Sen’s forces. “ They are arresting people in their houses, in the jungle, along the road—anybody they think works for Funcinpec,” said Sok Nuon, a policeman who fled from Kampong Chhnang province.
Gen. Long Sereirath, formerly deputy commander of the 5th Military Region in the north, fought his way out of Siem Riep city four days after the coup. He said he went without food for three days before reaching Samrong. “ We will blow up key bridges to keep them from coming north with artillery,” he said, but added that his forces were desperately low on ammunition.
His commander, Lt. Gen. Khan Savouen, who is now leading resistance forces, appealed for foreign assistance from his front-line command post near national Route 6 in Siem Riep province.” We will fight even if we don’t get foreign assistance,” he said, surrounded by Russian T-54 tanks, armoured personnel carriers, heavy artillery and anti-aircraft guns. Heavy fighting raged a few kilometers away and his position was overrun the day after the REVIEW interviewed him.
POL POT: THE END
Money man: Theng Bunma sent cash and gold for Hun Sen’s coup
By Nate Thayer
Far Eastern Economic Review
August 7, 1997
How much does it take to buy a coup? In Cambodia, the going rate seems to be $1 million. Suspected drug baron Theng Bunma said he gave that much in cash and gold to Second Prime Minister Hun Sen to fund the putsch which toppled co-premier Norodom Ranariddh.
“For the clash of 6th of July, 1997, I called Mr. Hun Sen and I talked to him. I gave him $1 million dollars to do whatever to control the situation,” said Bunma in an interview with Australian Channel 7 television.” He asked me if I had the money. I said no, but I would send 100 kilograms of gold in a plane into Cambodia.’ In return for his generosity, Bunma, reputed to be Cambodia’s richest businessman, enjoyed a perk of being a big-time coup financier: More than 300 hundred of Hun Sen’s troops, backed by tanks, were dispatched to protect Bunma’s property during the coup.
“ I say what the second prime minister did was correct. Why? One reason, take the example of my hotel. The other side wanted to destroy it, the government put three tanks and soldiers around to protect it,” he said. Asked whether Bunma had given the government the money, Cambodian Secretary of State for Information Khieu Kanharith replied:” Why would he give us a million dollars? I do not know what we are supposed to do with this money—it’s nothing, we need $100 million to finance the redevelopment of the whole country.”
Bunma also said he gave $50,000 dollars each to three leaders of a renegade faction of Ranariddh’s Funcinpec party “to encourage them”—Siem Riep governor Toan Chhay, Banteay Meanchey provincial governor Duong Khem and Minister of State Ung Phan.
The tycoon has denied allegations by the United States that he is involved in heroin trafficking.