General claims Pol Pot sighting in jungle camp

Pol Pot is alive and in the custody of renegade guerrillas, a senior Cambodian army spokesman claimed last night, raising hopes that the reviled Khmer Rouge leader may still face an international tribunal.

General Nhiek Bun Chhay, who has been negotiating the handover of Pol Pot to government forces, said he had seen the reviled leader in person, being held under tight security at Anlong Veng, the guerrillas' remote jungle stronghold.

"Pol Pot is alive, I saw him this morning," the general said. "He looked old and not very well," he added.

There has been no independent confirmation of the sighting and General Nhiek Bun Chhay was unable to offer any evidence. But if true, say Phnom Penh observers, this is one of the first reported encounters with the elusive despot for more than a decade, dispelling confusing reports over Pot Pot's health and whereabouts.

Cambodia's two vying prime ministers, who have pledged to stand Pol Pot before an international war crimes tribunal once he is handed over by renegade Khmer Rouge fighters who turned against him, issued conflicting statements yesterday.

Prince Norodom Ranariddh, the country's senior leader, said Pol Pot was being brought to Phnom Penh alive. However. his co-premier, Hun Sen, later contradicted the assertion, saying that he understood that Pol Pot was already dead.

The confusion surrounding Pol Pot may be partly due to the remote location, in the thick jungles of Cambodia's north, where his loyal guerrillas were surrounded, and later captured, by 1,000 renegades, reportedly embittered by an internal purge of their movement.

But there is also growing concern that Cambodia's most senior politicians have been engineering unconfirmed reports of events, in an attempt to rehabilitate hated Khmer Rouge leaders who want to return to mainstream politics.

"Pressure on the government to produce Pol Pot, or evidence that he is alive or dead is growing by the day," said one diplomat.

"The whole world is watching for developments and if Cambodia's leaders can't come up with what they have promised, they stand to lose plenty of credibility."