Welcome to the new Independent website. We hope you enjoy it and we value your feedback. Please contact us here.

Pol Pot `sets terms for his surrender'

There was further confusion over the whereabouts of Pol Pot last night, with a senior Cambodian military official in contact with renegade Khmer Rouge guerrillas casting doubt on reports that he has surrendered.

General Nheik Bunchay said the matter was only being negotiated with Pol Pot. The reviled guerrilla leader is reported to be on the run from his jungle stronghold with some 200 loyalists and several hostages, including Christopher Howes, the British expert in landmine clearance abducted by the Khmer Rouge in March last year.

"He has told his former comrades he will surrender, but only under certain conditions," General Nheik Bunchay said.

He said forces loyal to Pol Pot may surrender to a renegade Khmer Rouge force led by the notorious one-legged military commander of the hardline Maoist organisation, Ta Mok, known as "the butcher" to Cambodians. The name was earned during Pol Pot's brutal post-1975 regime, when an estimated 2 million people were either executed or worked to death in labour camps.

Latest reports on the guerrillas' clandestine radio said on Tuesday that Pol Pot had already surrendered to renegade forces, who turned against their leader of 30 years after he ordered a vicious internal purge earlier this month which saw the execution of Son Sen, the movement's long-standing security chief, and 11 of his family. The broadcast said "a new era" had begun for Cambodia, and that Pol Pot was a problem that had now been solved.

But the problem continues. Even if one of this century's most reviled dictators finally surrenders, there is no clear way to bring him to justice.

Cambodia's government has said it would stand Pol Pot before an international tribunal for his crimes against humanity. Both of the country's vying prime ministers have approached the United Nations Secretary-General's special representative to Cambodia, formally requesting he step in to oversee a truth commission, like that begun in post-apartheid South Africa, to determine facts about the secretive Khmer Rouge.

But the story of the Khmer Rouge is far more than a question of just one man's misdeeds. A whole generation of politicians and army commanders in Cambodia, including the two co-premiers, at one time served under or with Pol Pot in the factional civil wars that have racked the country for most of its independent history. "The reason this [tribunal] will not happen is that it would not be in anyone's interests to have the past dragged up, to have Pol Pot tell their stories," said Raoul Jennar, a Phnom Penh-based analyst.

"Execution is the way the group deals with those it terms `traitors'. It is the way they express their concept of justice and there is little reason to believe they would change their minds for Pol Pot," he added.

The prospect of Pol Pot being confirmed dead appears especially heartening for the people of Phnom Penh. Mistreated and forced to leave their jobs and homes for the "Killing Fields" of Pol Pot's regime, which ended in 1979, few have emerged from the past two decades without scars.

Fewer still want to think of Pol Pot as anything but dead. "I was happy when I heard he was finished," said Poli Lee, 43, who saw five members of her family beaten to death in 1977. "It has been difficult for me to live. But now I feel that I can believe he's not coming back."