PHNOM PENH, Cambodia (AP) _ Pol Pot is dead, but many of his Khmer Rouge henchmen who tortured and killed hundreds of thousands of people are still alive and tormenting Cambodia.
Some of them are governing the country.
A few are fighting a last-ditch guerrilla war against the government in mountains along the border with Thailand. More are living quietly in country towns and villages among the people they once terrorized.
It’s unlikely, however, that any of them will ever face justice for their role in the killings that wracked Cambodia when the Maoist guerrillas turned the entire nation into a labor camp in a twisted attempt to achieve an agrarian utopia.
As many as 2 million Cambodians perished from torture, overwork and starvation from 1975-79. The exact number of those slain by Khmer Rouge is unknown.
Despite recent calls by the United Nations and the United States to try Khmer Rouge leaders, the international community has never made a serious attempt to apprehend them in the 19 years since they lost power.
And as far as Cambodia’s government is concerned, ``all sides have been willing to reward and protect people guilty of the grossest crimes to serve their own partisan political purposes,″ says Khmer Rouge researcher David Ashley.
Spokesman Khieu Khanarith said last week the government wants to capture remaining guerrilla leaders and try them for crimes against humanity.
Yet to find the men who helped Pol Pot, look no further than Cambodia’s leader:
Co-Prime Minister Hun Sen, once a Khmer Rouge cadre, is regarded by many human rights groups as the prime mover behind political violence in Cambodia today.
Evidence of Hun Sen committing atrocities during the Khmer Rouge reign is slim, and he defected to Vietnam in 1977 when Pol Pot began a series of purges.
But Hun Sen was a Khmer Rouge when they marched the population into labor camps and the death and destruction began. He learned the group’s lessons well. Last July, he launched a bloody coup deposing his elected co-premier, Prince Norodom Ranariddh. Scores of Ranariddh’s followers were murdered, human rights groups say.
Other former Khmer Rouge now part of Hun Sen’s government include Chea Sim, president of the National Assembly, and Sar Kheng, a co-minister of the interior, plus several military generals.
While Hun Sen has promoted himself as the only leader strong enough to prevent the guerrillas’ return, he has cut deals with some of the most violent Khmer Rouge and rewarded them with the right to rule over large parts of Cambodia. Among them are:
_Ieng Sary, deputy prime minister to Pol Pot. He made peace with Hun Sen in 1996, leading the defection of 10,000 guerrillas. Now getting rich from gem and timber concessions in a western province under his control.
_Ke Pauk, a recent defector to Hun Sen’s government. After another commander named Ta Mok, ``he is probably the single bloodiest of them all,″ genocide investigator Craig Atcheson told the Phnom Penh Post recently.
_Mam Naym, chief interrogator at Tuol Sleng, where more than 20,000 Cambodians were tortured and killed. Later head of a Khmer Rouge prison. Now a corn-farming baron in a western province under government control.
_Sam Bith, commanded Khmer Rouge who slaughtered thousands of Vietnamese villagers in 1978. Hun Sen made him a general in 1996.
Others in the inner circle of the weakened movement have elected to keep fighting _ for now.
They include Ta Mok, a one-legged commander called ``The Butcher″ who ordered the killings of tens of thousands of Vietnamese and Cambodian villagers. He replaced Pol Pot as Khmer Rouge leader in 1997.
Nuon Chea, once Pol Pot’s second in command, helped formulate the Khmer Rouge ideology that included brutally eliminating all opponents, as did Khieu Samphan, who is the nominal head of the Khmer holdouts.
It’s clear that all these men bear responsibility for the terror imposed on Cambodia. But determining their specific actions is more difficult.
``Both Cambodians and foreigners have been quite content to focus on Pol Pot as some sort of omnipotent murderous psychopath,″ Ashley said.
``Despite the documentation work done over the years, we actually know frighteningly little about how the Khmer Rouge security apparatus worked and who actually carried out most the killings,″ he said.