anlong veng, Oddar Meanchey – The residents of this remote northern town are struggling over whether to welcome back some former Khmer Rouge compatriots-turned-enemies.
The residents of Anlong Veng are bracing for the reintegration of some 20,000 defecting soldiers and civilians who stayed loyal to the Khmer Rouge leadership after a March 24 pro-government mutiny split the movement in this former rebel stronghold.
Nearly four months to the day after the March mutiny, hard-liners launched a deadly election-day attack on their former neighbors. The pre-dawn assault killed at least seven people and wounded dozens more. Rebels also burned houses in the area to the ground.
An RCAF logistics officer here said resentment runs deep against guerrilla leaders for the election-day attack.
“Many people here want to see those guerrilla leaders executed,” said the army logistics officer, Thoeun, who also defected in March.
The district’s deputy governor, Poy Roeun, said he is eagerly awaiting the thousands of families expected to return to the homes they fled in March.
Poy Roeun said he believes that the people of Anlong Veng will consider the area’s common interests rather than carrying out acts of revenge.
However, he noted that March defectors believe they know exactly who carried out the July 26 attack.
“Ta Kung was commanding division 912 and was responsible for the pre-election attack that killed an entire family,” Poy Roeun said, referring to one of the military commanders to defect this month.
Division 912 was reputedly Ta Mok’s most loyal division.
In March, Ta Mok, Nuon Chea and Khieu Samphan—all three former standing committee members of the Khmer Rouge’s brutal 1975-1978 Democratic Kampuchea regime—fled the mutiny with thousands of loyalists to a rebel outpost on the Thai border called Mountain 200.
A month later, tens of thousands of Khmer Rouge civilians and soldiers poured over the Thai border into refugee camps as government soldiers forced their way up the mountain and seized the last of the hard-liners’ heavy artillery.
The Khmer Rouge trio has been at large ever since.
Now, a massive defection deal signed Dec 4 by top Khmer Rouge commanders is set to return some 20,000 soldiers and civilians who previously had stayed loyal to Ta Mok, Nuon Chea and Khieu Samphan.
Thoeun said that if people want to take revenge on their former Khmer Rouge compatriots, then they should never have defected to the government in the first place.
“If they want revenge, then we try to explain to them to drop past matters and pick up the reconciliation policy of the government,” Thoeun said, sitting in the small food stand that he runs.
“We console them by saying that we cannot insist on revenge and defect,” he said.
Kao Tom, 22, a businesswoman and mother of a 1-year-old son, said she has a “new life” since mutineers upended Ta Mok’s reign and the government secured the recent defection.
Area residents are happy that road travel through longtime Khmer Rouge zones is becoming increasingly safe for commerce.
“Now I can live together with my husband and son because my husband does not have to go to the jungle any more,” said Kao Tom. “I can earn some money to feed the family and my husband doesn’t have to wait for rice or salary from the government.”
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