Pol Pot's defeat fuels new war

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The Independent Online
Pacing the corridors of the notorious Tuol Sleng Prison, a former school in central Phnom Penh which served as a death camp for 20,000 people, the horrors of genocide abound. In this place and others, Pol Pot and the Khmer Rouge purged Cambodia of those it judged to be "thwarting the people's revolution". Inside, pasted on the walls are thousands of pictures of Cambodians who had the misfortune to die here, photographs taken as grim records by the bloody hands of the executioners themselves.

This is a place of mourning for many in Cambodia, a nation still traumatised by a nightmare of suffering which saw 2 million people killed in the Pol Pot years, from 1975 to 1979.

"I come every year to look at the photographs in the hope of seeing my mother and father," said Bun Ouch Pole, separated from his family more than 20 years ago by the Khmer Rouge.

"The news that Pol Pot's own killers have turned against him makes me feel happy," he says, "but I want to see Pol Pot die a slow and painful death. I want to see the end of the Khmer Rouge because of the things they did to me and my family."

As the Khmer Rouge reportedly disintegrates around its northern Anlong Veng stronghold, Cambodian troops are advancing to the region to support about 1,000 renegade guerrillas who have turned on Pol Pot, following his recent brutal purge of Khmer Rouge commanders.

Now that "Brother Number One" is on the run and facing a violent death, many Cambodians feel that justice is finally being done. There are hopes that peace can now prevail. But rising political tension in Cambodia is dampening this optimism. There are fears that the end of the war with the Khmer Rouge may, in fact, harm the country's peace prospects.

Cambodia's two rival prime ministers are the problem. Prince Norodom Ranariddh, the First Prime Minister and Hun Sen, the powerful Second Prime Minister, have been battling for military supremacy in the run-up to next year's election. And both have been negotiating with the Khmer Rouge.

"The prime ministers think the election result will be determined by who has the biggest, most powerful army," says Ker Munthit, a Cambodian analyst. "Both have been wooing Khmer Rouge leaders with promises of amnesties and autonomy, in exchange for military support."

Last August, Iang Sary, a Khmer Rouge commander of 10,000 guerrilla fighters, defected to the government, aligning himself with Prince Ranariddh. The latest deal could bring all but a hard core of Khmer Rouge guerrillas at Anlong Veng over to the prince.

Hun Sen, who dominates the Cambodian army, has fared worse. He is reported to have been close to a deal with Son Sen, the Khmer Rouge security chief, before last week's purge. That saw Son Sen executed on Pol Pot's orders.

"It's tragic," says one Phnom Penh-based diplomat, "the end of the Khmer Rouge should be uniting the country. Instead, it looks like sending the country straight back to war."