Hand-Over of Cambodia’s Pol Pot Not Seen as Imminent


Persuading the remnants of the Khmer Rouge to hand over Pol Pot to an international tribunal could prove thorny, even if the former dictator is in fact a prisoner of the guerrillas he once commanded, sources here in the Cambodian capital said Wednesday.

“The negotiations are apparently stalled,” said a senior foreign observer. “There’s still apparently some division of opinion as to whether and under what conditions the [Khmer Rouge] hard-liners would agree to recognize the government, the constitution and the king.

“There are rings and rings of hard-liners,” the observer said, adding, “It is not clear exactly who is controlling whom.”


A Cabinet aide insisted that the negotiations had not been derailed but said, “I can’t even begin to speculate on how long it’s going to take to settle this thing.”

On Tuesday, First Prime Minister Norodom Ranariddh told reporters that he had no news “on any conditions or preconditions set forth by the Khmer Rouge on the hand-over of Pol Pot.” He announced no further progress Wednesday.

Ranariddh deflected queries on the politically sensitive question of amnesty for rebels who were in Pol Pot’s inner circle during the Khmer Rouge’s reign of terror from 1975 to 1979, when more than 1 million Cambodians died.

“You do not need to know about amnesty at this moment,” Ranariddh said Wednesday when asked whether the government would offer to pardon the nominal head of the Khmer Rouge, Khieu Samphan, who has turned against Pol Pot. “You must wait to learn about it step by step.”

It is not known whether Khieu Samphan or other aging leaders control the group of about 95 young renegade soldiers who are reportedly holding the 69-year-old Pol Pot prisoner in a base camp outside Anlong Veng, near the Thai border.

A key question is whether any of the Anlong Veng mutineers will be offered a peace settlement similar to the one given Ieng Sary, a Khmer Rouge defector who was granted amnesty by King Norodom Sihanouk in September and continues to rule territory in northwestern Cambodia.


Ieng Sary’s soldiers were allowed to join the royal army with nothing more than a change of uniform, while their boss has continued to supervise the lucrative export of Cambodian timber and gems to Thailand, sources said.

The international community has welcomed the possibility of a genocide trial for Pol Pot. But some Cambodians seem at least as interested in how amnesty for Pol Pot’s comrades might alter the fragile political equilibrium between Ranariddh and his old enemy, Second Prime Minister Hun Sen.

The two rivals have been competing to sign up Khmer Rouge defectors, each hoping to gain an edge in elections scheduled for May. So far, the majority of the former Khmer Rouge has sided with the royalist camp against Hun Sen. The Anlong Veng rebels, who have been negotiating with envoys of Ranariddh, are widely expected to do the same.

Though Hun Sen helped negotiate the defection of Ieng Sary, press reports say he is opposed to amnesty for Khieu Samphan--or any Khmer Rouge hard-liners implicated in genocide. However, the king (Ranariddh’s father) has said he is willing to pardon Khieu Samphan.


Ranariddh and Hun Sen formed their uneasy coalition in 1993, and the ensuing power struggle has created a bifurcated government that has hobbled decision-making. Cambodia has two co-ministers of defense and the interior, two rival chiefs of staff in a factionalized army, and a National Assembly that cannot be convened because of a dispute between the two major parties.

Sparring between the two prime ministers has intensified in recent months and erupted last week into a firefight in downtown Phnom Penh between heavily armed bodyguards from the two camps. Two people were killed.


Tension in the capital is running high, and on Wednesday, security concerns prompted U.S. Secretary of State Madeleine Albright, on a trip through Southeast Asia, to cancel a planned overnight visit.

The co-prime ministers have jointly requested that the United Nations be given custody of Pol Pot--if and when his comrades hand him over. And, to the relief of many Cambodians, Ranariddh and Hun Sen agreed this week to the May date for elections--six months earlier than expected.

“They’ve decided they can’t live with each other,” said a human rights observer. “They don’t want a return to full-scale civil war.” But he fears the election campaign could be violent.

An international war crimes trial for Pol Pot could help begin to restore this brutalized nation’s spirits, observers say.

“If there were no Pol Pot, the country would be developing and the political situation would calm down,” said Chan Vannak, 18, a school bus driver. “If there is no Khmer Rouge, I feel that my life will be longer, because there are no people coming to kill me. I might die of disease instead.”

But Vannak and several other ordinary Cambodians said Wednesday that they have yet to see convincing proof that the revolutionary is really a prisoner.


Ranariddh has said he would like to arrange for journalists to photograph Pol Pot--for the first time in more than a decade--but his aides said Wednesday that there are too many bandits and land mines in the region to allow journalists to visit.

The Cabinet aide, speaking on condition of anonymity, said government troops are now being sent in to reinforce the area around the rebel stronghold in Anlong Veng and said attempts to assassinate Pol Pot are to be expected.