Ex-Khmer Rouge embrace democracy but mull war
Jul 27, 2008, 11:05 GMT
Anlong Veng, Cambodia - The former Khmer Rouge fighters of that movement's final stronghold don't care too much about the upcoming trials of their former leaders - but they do care about alleged Thai incursions into Cambodian territory, they said Sunday.
Once fiercely loyal to former Khmer Rouge military commander Ta Mok, who died in 2006 after seven years in jail awaiting trial for genocide, now they say they have embraced democracy.
They are not, however, afraid of war - especially when it comes to Cambodian territory they believe has been violated by hundreds of Thai troops in nearby Preah Vihear, and these northern mountains of Cambodia are almost completely populated by former Khmer Rouge.
Cambodia went to the polls Sunday in five-yearly national elections, but amongst these former fighters, the talk was all about coming out of retirement to serve the government if talks over the disputed Preah Vihear temple, just an hour's drive away, fail.
Cambodia and Thailand are scheduled to hold talks over the temple Monday, listed as a UNESCO World Heritage site earlier this month and since the focus of troop buildup on both sides.
Former fighters say they would be at war already if Prime Minister Hun Sen had just said the word, but instead he and the ruling Cambodian People's Party (CPP), expected to be handsomely returned to office after the elections, have urged restraint. Some are frustrated.
'I only have one leg, and I am old, but my former troops are still in Preah Vihear, and I am willing to give military advice or any other assistance I can to protect Cambodian sovereignty,' said former Khmer Rouge fighter Try Nin, 56.
'We are former Khmer Rouge. We are not scared of foreign aggressors. We respect the government's decision to meet the Thais with diplomacy, but if that fails, everyone here is ready to fight.'
Former photographer at the Khmer Rouge's infamous Toul Sleng torture centre turned CPP commune leader, Nhem En, 47, who claims Anlong Veng's several thousand voters are 99 percent CPP, agreed.
'I am ready to fight the Thais. All we wait for is an order from Prime Minister Hun Sen,' he said. 'We don't want war - we want peace and development. But we need tourists, and while the Thais do this, the tourists do not come.
'Thais already have their own problems in their south,' he said, referring to Muslim insurgency. 'Why do they want an extra problem?'
En's son, Meas Bunlo, aged 20, said that like almost three quarters of the Cambodian population today, he was too young to remember the Khmer Rouge and it's 1975-79 regime and has only ever known the 23-year reign of Hun Sen.
'I went to Ta Mok's funeral, but I don't feel close to the history because I am too young,' he said. 'However I am Cambodian, so I care about our border and foreign invaders.'
Hun Sen, himself a former Khmer Rouge fighter who defected before returning to overthrow the regime, has stressed Cambodia will strive to solve the border dispute by diplomatic, not military, means.
All the same, Anlong Veng's former fighters said, they are now his loyal servants and are ready if called upon to fight again.