Cambodian co-premiers say Khmer Rouge chief Pol Pot captured
PHNOM PENH, Cambodia (AP) _ After a week of conflicting reports, Cambodia’s rival co-premiers said Saturday that Khmer Rouge leader Pol Pot had been captured by former comrades and his 30-year guerrilla movement was finally over.
The announcement by Prince Norodom Ranariddh and Hun Sen _ who rarely agree publicly on anything _ ended days of arguing between them over the fate of the Khmer Rouge leader, whose brutal rule turned Cambodia into a vast and bloody agrarian experiment.
Speaking to reporters Sunday, Ranariddh said the 69-year-old Pol Pot was receiving medical treatment in Anlong Veng, the Khmer Rouge’s northern stronghold.
``Pol Pot has been arrested. ... He is receiving oxygen that is attached to him to help him breathe. They should move him to town in Phnom Penh as soon as possible or move him somewhere else because this is very important for political reasons,″ the prince said.
Ranariddh said that both prime ministers have signed a letter to U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan seeking assistance to try Pol Pot before an international tribunal.
The co-premiers offered no evidence of Pol Pot’s capture, though their agreement lent a measure of credibility to reports that he was being held in Cambodia’s northern jungles.
There have been no independent sightings of the Khmer Rouge chief since 1979.
``Hun Sen and I agree that with the capture and arrest of Pol Pot we can consider this the end of the Khmer Rouge,″ the prince said.
``We agree this is a gift to Cambodia,″ a smiling Hun Sen added.
Ranariddh said he and Hun Sen had signed a letter asking U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan for assistance in bringing Pol Pot before an international tribunal.
``Pol Pot is a criminal against humanity,″ Ranariddh said. ``But I have to say we have to provide a fair trial.″
But to many Cambodians who suffered through the 1975-79 Khmer Rouge regime, a trial would not be enough.
``For me, he must be executed,″ said motorcycle taxi driver Lo Lan, 48, whose father and grandparents died under the Khmer Rouge. ``They would have to slice up his flesh so that he suffers the way he made others suffer.″
Neither Cambodia’s constitution nor previous U.N. tribunals established to judge crimes against humanity in Bosnia or Rwanda allow the death penalty.
Pol Pot’s Khmer Rouge caused the deaths of up to 2 million Cambodians through starvation, overwork and systematic torture and execution in a frenzied bid to turn the country into an immense agrarian communist labor camp.
The regime was overthrown by an invasion from neighboring Vietnam in 1979, but the group waged a civil war against the pro-Hanoi government led by Hun Sen and later against the shaky coalition established after U.N.-supervised elections in 1993.
Pol Pot has been reported on the run near the Thai border since last week, when hard-liners within the disintegrating Khmer Rouge split into pro- and anti-Pol Pot factions, reportedly after he executed his one-time defense minister, Son Sen, and his family.
Pol Pot allegedly was so ill that he was carried through the jungle in a hammock by his men.
Ranariddh said Pol Pot had been seized near Anlong Veng by subordinates who had turned against him, and would be returned to Phnom Penh.
But some Cambodians were suspicious of the news, saying it was highly unlikely Pol Pot would give himself up.
``I don’t know what to make of this,″ said Nguon Bunhoen, 40, who lost eight family members during the reign of terror. ``But it could be one of the Khmer Rouge’s tricks.″
``I want to see him if he is brought to Phnom Penh so I can see what he looks like and what makes him so cruel,″ said potato vendor Sok Nan, whose brother was executed by the Khmer Rouge.
Questions remained about what deal might have been made between the guerrillas and the prime ministers, especially over Khieu Samphan, the figurehead Khmer Rouge president long seen as their moderate public face.
Khieu Samphan, who reportedly had been taken hostage by Pol Pot as he fled, also was in custody, Ranariddh said. Remaining Khmer Rouge guerrillas have said they will surrender to the government, he said.
Hun Sen has repeatedly called for Khieu Samphan’s arrest and ruled out any deal with him. Ranariddh had shown more flexibility in dealing with the Khmer Rouge leadership.
Protests erupted last year after the defection of Ieng Sary, a high-ranking Khmer Rouge officer who took 10,000 guerrillas with him, crippling the movement. In exchange, he received a reluctant royal pardon for genocide from King Norodom Sihanouk and now sponsors a small political party.
Both Hun Sen and Ranariddh, who lead rival parties in the tense coalition government, have been negotiating to win the guerrillas’ allegiance since then.
Ranariddh’s royalist was part of an anti-Vietnam coalition with the Khmer Rouge in the 1980s. The royalists and Hun Sen’s formerly communist Cambodian People’s Party have never overcome their enmity.