In a dramatic development, hardline Khmer Rouge factions were exchanging gun fire in the jungles of northern Cambodia yesterday after Pol Pot ordered an internal purge which appears to have split his ruthless organisation, according to Prince Norodom Ranariddh, Cambodia's co-prime minister.
Pol Pot is reported to have moved out of his remote Anlong Veng stronghold with a force of just 200 loyal fighters after having his long-standing defence chief, Son Sen, brutally executed along with 11 family members for "spying" on behalf of the Cambodian government. Guerrillas loyal to Son Sen, and others believed to be sympathetic to the idea of a peace deal with the government, are pursuing Pol Pot.
Ninety-five per cent of the hardline Khmer Rouge forces at Anlong Veng are reported to have turned against their leader and aligned themselves firmly with government forces, Prince Ranariddh told journalists in the capital Phnom Penh yesterday.
"I hope this is the end of the life of the Khmer Rouge, because Pol Pot cannot live any longer," he said, adding that Cambodian troops would be deployed in the area to "settle the issue of the remaining Khmer Rouge".
Thai officials say they have sealed the southern borders with Cambodia to prevent Pol Pot escaping into Thailand. A military spokesman said Thai forces will cooperate with the Cambodian authorities in capturing Pol Pot, who is reported to have taken several key Khmer Rouge leaders hostage. Amongst them is his own deputy, Khieu Samphan, the nominal Khmer Rouge leader.
Cambodia's ruling Funcinpec party, led by Prince Ranariddh, has been negotiating with Khmer Rouge leaders, including Khieu Samphan, in a bid to end a civil war that has wracked Cambodia for more than 20 years. There has been widespread speculation in recent days that a deal was in the offing, involving the return of the remaining Khmer Rouge to mainstream Cambodian politics, in exchange for the surrender of all rebel forces and the exile of Pol Pot.
Last August, in a powerful blow to the movement, more than 10,000 guerrillas defected to the government side, leaving as few as 2,000 hardline but disillusioned Khmer Rouge cadres still fighting with Pol Pot.
There has been no independent confirmation of the latest defections. But if Prince Ranariddh's information is correct, the world's most hated and ruthless group may be on the point of an historic disintegration.
Accused of genocide on a massive scale between 1975 and 1979, the Pol Pot regime in Cambodia oversaw the killing of more than 2 million people through execution, starvation and mistreatment.
Pol Pot, Brother No1 during these "killing fields" years, attempted to return Cambodia to "Year Zero", banning money and evacuating entire cities in the name of an agrarian revolution which impoverished the nation.Reuse content