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Cambodia Villagers Fear Khmer Rouge

April 21, 1998

CHHANOK TRU, Cambodia (AP) _ Three days after Pol Pot died, gunfire in the night jolted Vorn Sun awake. She opened her eyes to find her sister dead, her village on fire and guerrillas emptying their weapons into her wood-and-thatch home.

She knew who the invaders were. Their uniforms were visible in the light of the flames consuming the squalid huts of Cambodian and ethnic Vietnamese fishermen.

They were Khmer Rouge.

``Where are the Vietnamese? We want the Vietnamese!″ the guerrillas, who harbor a rabid hatred of Cambodia’s eastern neighbors, shouted as they shot up Chhanok Tru, 80 miles north of Phnom Penh.

Vorn Sun’s family is Cambodian. But when her 17-year-old nephew, Choat Tru, dashed outside his burning home, a guerrilla shot him in the chest.

He was one of 22 killed in the attack early Saturday morning, including 12 ethnic Vietnamese and 10 Cambodians. Four were children. Fifteen people were wounded and 26 homes were destroyed.

Barely five hours later, Khmer Rouge guerrillas near the border with Thailand cremated the body of their reviled former leader, Pol Pot.

``Pol Pot did this,″ Vorn Sun said Monday as relatives carried the coffins of her sister and nephew to their cremation pyre.

Told that Pol Pot was dead, she shook her head and said, ``There are many Pol Pots.″

With Pol Pot’s death and Cambodia moving toward its second national election in five years, foreign governments and Cambodia observers have declared the Khmer Rouge rebel group all but finished.

Their Maoist ideology, which led to slave labor camps and bloody purges that claimed as many as 2 million lives between 1975 and 1979, has degenerated to banditry and ethnic cleansing.

Gen. Chea Saran of the Cambodian army claims the guerrillas’ ranks have dwindled to 200 to 300, as they have been pushed out of their northern stronghold of Anlong Veng by mutineers supported by government troops.

But Gen. Wiwat Satarak of the Thai army task force, which monitors the Khmer Rouge, estimates their strength at 2,000, with several units operating deep inside Cambodia.

Although they no longer command the numbers to topple the government and cannot take part in July 26 elections, they add another violent element to the terror and murder that mar campaigning by the country’s political factions.

Despite weeks of claims by the army that the capture of Khmer Rouge leaders, Pol Pot included, was imminent, the country’s defense minister was quoted as saying he did not know their whereabouts.

``They didn’t tell me where they were going when they left Anlong Veng,″ Tea Banh was quoted as saying in the Cambodian Daily. ``I have no idea where Ta Mok, Nuon Chea and Khieu Samphan fled to, but they are not in Anlong Veng.″

Khmer Rouge officers who recently defected to the government said the guerrillas were planning attacks to disrupt the elections.

The rebels have long unleashed terror near Chhanok Tru, where Vorn Sun awoke over the weekend to find her sister dead. The area is home to thousands of ethnic Vietnamese fishermen, some of whose families have lived in Cambodia for generations.

Vietnam is Cambodia’s historic enemy and the Khmer Rouge, who were toppled in 1979 by a Vietnamese invasion, portray themselves as Cambodia’s defenders against Vietnam.

Khmer Rouge radio claimed responsibility today for the killings, saying the raiders ``attacked the nest ... of the aggressors″ and secured a ``great victory.″

Trang Van Minh, 49, an ethnic Vietnamese fisherman, lost three grandchildren in the ambush.

``What can I do?″ he said when asked if he feared more raids. ``If I fight them, they will kill me. If I don’t fight them, they will kill me too.″

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