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Washington levels new threats against Cambodia

By Greg Butterfield

U.S. Sen. Mitch McConnell met with Prime Minister Hun Sen, the leader of the Cambodian People's Party, on March 30. The Kansas Republican threatened to cut off financial aid to the war-ravaged country unless the government hands over former leaders of the Khmer Rouge guerrilla movement to an international tribunal dominated by Washington.

Their meeting in Phnom Penh, the Cambodian capital, was the latest move by the U.S. to intensify pressure on Hun Sen's government.

Hun Sen has resisted U.S. and European governments' demands to arrest Khieu Samphan, Nuon Chea and other Khmer Rouge leaders who surrendered along with several hundred supporters in December. Hun Sen insists the matter is one for the Cambodian people to decide without outside interference.

Many of the Khmer Rouge soldiers have been integrated into the national armed forces.

U.S. Secretary of State Madeleine Albright and other top officials have leveled similar threats at Phnom Penh in recent weeks. Aid to Cambodia has already been cut from $40 million annually to just $12 million due to Washington's displeasure with Hun Sen's independent course.

In line with the U.S. pressure campaign, a United Nations panel recommended in March that Cambodia hand over 20 to 30 Khmer Rouge leaders on charges of "genocide and crimes against humanity." The proposed international tribunal would be under the authority of the U.S.-dominated UN Security Council.

The U.S. wants the right to judge the Khmer Rouge without owning up to the Pentagon's genocidal war against the Cambodian people during the U.S. war against Vietnam.

Washington had authorized terror bombings of defenseless towns and villages starting in 1969. That was followed by a bloody U.S.-backed coup and a U.S.-led invasion in 1970, allegedly to hunt down Vietnamese troops who were moving through Cambodian territory.

The Khmer Rouge movement responded to the Pentagon's carpet-bombing of the Cambodian countryside by fighting and ousting Washington's puppet regime from Phnom Penh in the spring of 1975.

Upwards of a million Cambodians were killed in the war years 1969-1975. Millions were maimed and injured. The country's industry and agriculture were devastated for decades to come.

The Pentagon-sponsored terror ended only when the Khmer Rouge, then allied with the Vietnamese National Liberation Front, seized power.

In 1977, the Khmer Rouge began a border war with their neighbor, socialist Vietnam. Divisions grew within the movement. In January 1979 a group of Cambodian communists, including Hun Sen, appalled at the course taken by the Khmer Rouge leadership, appealed for support from the Vietnamese People's Army. Together they expelled the Khmer Rouge government.

During the civil war that followed, the U.S. supplied arms and land mines to the Khmer Rouge in an effort to undermine the new Cambodian socialist government, which had close ties to Vietnam and the Soviet Union.

Hun Sen's government has proposed the establishment of a "Truth and Reconciliation Commission" modeled after one in South Africa that studied the crimes of the apartheid era. The Cambodia-based commission would investigate the 30-year period of U.S. intervention and civil war.

The international tribunal pushed by the Clinton administration would only judge the period of Khmer Rouge rule from 1975-1979 when, it is charged, between one and two million people died.

U.S. engineers capture

Ta Mok was the last major Khmer Rouge leader who did not surrender to the government. He remained in neighboring Thailand until his arrest March 6.

A Reuters dispatch filed in Bangkok by Sutin Wannabovorn was titled: "Ta Mok detention result of U.S. pressure."

"A senior Thai military source said he believed the arrest of notorious Khmer Rouge leader Ta Mok was the result of cooperation between Thailand and Cambodia under pressure from the United States," Wannabovorn wrote.

Washington took advantage of Ta Mok's arrest to turn up the heat on Cambodia.

However, Hun Sen's government has so far refused to surrender its right to sovereignty in the matter, or to abandon the course of reconciliation between the different wings of the former liberation forces.

By early April, Phnom Penh had ruled out the extradition of Ta Mok. He is likely to be tried in a Cambodian court on charges stemming from his involvement in continuing the civil war since 1994.

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