The following is part one of a six-part interview between Khieu Samphan, the nominal Khmer Rouge head of state, and Mr. Sam Borin of Radio Free Asia. This interview was conducted in January, 2004 and was re-broadcast in November, 2007.
Translated from Khmer by Khmerization
Sam Borin: (Introduction): Mr. Khieu Samphan was born on the 27th of July 1931 in Prey Veng province. He received a sholarship to study in France in 1958 and was awarded a doctorate in economics in 1959. Like most of Khmer students, he was inspired by groups of people who opposed a foreign colonial rule and who leaned toward Marxism-Leninism.
Khieu Samphan was elected to the Cambodian parliament twice, in 1962 and 1966. He served as a senior minister in the Sangkum Reastr Niyum reggime under the then Prince Norodom Sihanouk in his capacity as Secretary of Commerce from 1962 to the end of 1963. During his tenure as Secretary of Commerce he was considered as a clean public servant and a clean politician.
In 1967, fearing arrest and execution, he fled to the jungle to join the Communist Party of Cambodia under the leadership of Saloth Sar, alias Pol Pot, in the aim of toppling the feudal and the reactionary regimes, old and new. Khieu Samphan, who was an intellectual and was an important official, has played a vital role in attracting and recruiting other intellectuals, former public servants and Prince Sihanouk to join in the movement of national liberation. In April 1976 Comrade Khieu Samphan was appointed as the president of the presidium in place of Prince Sihanouk who resigned from the position. In his highest role in the Democratic Kampuchea regime Comrade Khieu Samphan played a vital role in his capacity as a spokesman for the KR regime.
He was a vice-president and deputy prime minister in a tripartite coalition government which included the Khmer Rouge, Prince Sihanouk and Son Sann factions which was formed in 1982. In that tripartite coalition, Khieu Samphan was responsible for foreign affairs.
In relation to the peace talks in Paris in 1991 he was the highest representative of the Khmer Rouge delegation. After the peace talks he became the member of the Supreme National Council of Cambodia, along with Comrade Son Sen.
After the Paris agreement, the KR faction did not participate in the UN-organised general election of 1993. He continued his struggle as a guerrilla leader until 1998 when he defected to the government and was allowed to live freely as an ordinary citizen.
Mr. President, were what I have just described represented the correct descriptions of your history?
Samphan: In general they were correct but there are some points that I would like to clarify.
Borin: Please go ahead.
Samphan: You have described that I have leaned toward the Marxist groups in order to join the anti-war movement when I was in France. I would like to clarify this. In fact, those who were against the wars when I arrived in France were not Marxists. At that time, the atmosphere was an atmosphere of anti-war sentiment against the war in Vietnam and the war in Algeria, because those wars were the most important wars which killed thousands of lives of young Frenchmen. They have destroyed the French economy. And at that time, we saw that the wars will be lost, especially the war in Vietnam. And when the French defeat in Bien Dien Phu was so apparent, the anti-war movements were raging all over the country. So the anti-war movements were not related to any Marxist leaning movements. They were just the student movements. They were not communist movements or any anti-communist movements. We were all anti-war people who had our common goals of protesting against a colonial rule, especially the war in Vietnam and the war in Algeria. Those anti-war people, included the French people, black Africans, north Africans such as the Morocans and the Arab people etc. That was the atmosphere at that ime. This is the first point that I would like to clarify.
Secondly, when I fled Phnom Penh there was an arrest warrant against me in an attempt to bring me to the military court, after the peasants' uprising in Samlaut. This threat against me was not the first threat. There were a series of threats before. At that time I have realised that His Majesty (Sihanouk), who was the head of state at that time, has tried to played a role of a reconciliator. Even though he did not like those intellectuals who had just returned from France, he wanted them to have their voices and to carry out their activities. But around 1966-1967 the election was held which resulted in the right-wing parliament. Lon Nol became prime minister. That was unusual because the position of prime minister at that time was usually appointed by His Majesty (Sihanouk) but this time the prime minister was appointed by the parliament. His Majesty did not object to the appointment because he respected the results of the election. Previously His Majesty personally appointed the prime iminster from the Sangkum Reastr Niyum Party. But after he received too many criticisms about his direct appointments, he agreed to allow a parliament to choose a prime minister. So that's why there was a right-wing parliament. And all the researchers had also written like what I have just described.
Borin: Mr. President, when you said that it was a right-wing parliament, do you mean that it was the parliament formed by the Sangkum Reastr Niyum regime still?
Samphan: Yes, that was correct. At that time we were always under the Sangkum Reastr Niyum but all the researchers have called that parliament a right-wing parliament because they noticed that most of the Members of Parliament were leaning toward the policy of Gen. Lon Nol. And at that time there were groups of people in Phnom Penh who began to talk about a "Khmer Suharto-Nasution"..(referring to a coup d'etat staged by Suharto and Nasution in Indonesia in 1965). (To be continued in parts 2, 3, 4, 5, 6...)
1. Read part two click here.
1. Read part two click here.