On the Side of Pol Pot: U.S. Supports
by Jack Colhoun
Covert Action Quarterly magazine,
For the last eleven years the United States
government, in a covert operation born of cynicism and hypocrisy,
has collaborated with the genocidal Khmer Rouge in Cambodia. More
specifically, Washington has covertly aided and abetted the Pol
Potists' guerrilla war to overthrow the Vietnamese backed government
of Prime Minister Hun Sen, which replaced the Khmer Rouge regime.
The U.S. government's secret partnership with the Khmer Rouge
grew out of the U.S. defeat in the Vietnam War. After the fall
of Saigon in 1975, the U.S.-worried by the shift in the Southeast
Asian balance of power-turned once again to geopolitical confrontation.
It quickly formalized an anti-Vietnamese, anti-Soviet strategic
alliance with China-an alliance whose disastrous effects have
been most evident in Cambodia. For the U.S., playing the "China
card" has meant sustaining the Khmer Rouge as a geopolitical
counterweight capable of destabilizing the Hun Sen government
in Cambodia and its Vietnamese allies.
When Vietnam intervened in Cambodia and drove the Pol Potists
from power in January 1972, Washington took immediate steps to
preserve the Khmer Rouge as a guerrilla movement. International
relief agencies were pressured by the U.S. to provide humanitarian
assistance to the Khmer Rouge guerrillas who fled into Thailand.
For more than a decade, the Khmer Rouge have used the refugee
camps they occupy as military bases to wage a contra-war in Cambodia.
According to Linda Mason and Roger Brown, who studied the relief
operations in Thailand for Cambodian refugees:
...relief organizations supplied the Khmer Rouge resistance movement
with food and medicines.... In the Fall of 1979 the Khmer Rouge
were the most desperate of all the refugees who came to the Thai-Kampuchean
border. Throughout l900, however, their health rapidly improved,
and relief organizations began questioning the legitimacy of feeding
them. The Khmer Rouge. . . having regained strength...had begun
actively fighting the Vietnamese. The relief organizations considered
supporting the Khmer Rouge inconsistent with their humanitarian
goals.... Yet Thailand, the country that hosted the relief operation,
and the U.S. government, which funded the bulk of the relief operations,
insisted that the Khmer Rouge be fed.
During his reign as National Security Adviser, Zbigniew Brzezinski
played an important role in determining how the U.S. would support
the Pol Pot guerrillas. Elizabeth Becker, an expert on Cambodia,
recently wrote, "Brzezinski himself claims that he concocted
the idea of persuading Thailand to cooperate fully with China
in efforts to rebuild the Khmer Rouge.... Brzezinski said, "
I encouraged the Chinese to support Pol Pot. I encouraged the
Thai to help the DK [Democratic Kampuchea]. The question was how
to help the Cambodian people. Pol Pot was an abomination. We could
not support him but China could."
An Unholy Alliance
The U.S. not only permitted the Khmer Rouge to use the refugee
camps in Thailand as a base for its war against the new government
in Phnom Penh but it also helped Prince Norodom Sihanouk and former
Prime Minister Son Sann to organize their own guerrilla armies
from the refugee population in the camps. These camps are an integral
factor in the ability of the Khmer Rouge, the Sihanoukist National
Army (ANS) and Son Sann's Khmer People's National Liberation Front
(KPNLF) to wage war against the Hun Sen government.
In 1979, Washington began "a small program" of support
for Sihanouk's and Son Sann's guerrillas by providing "travel
expenses" for the "insurgent leaders" and funds
"for the up keep of resistance camps near the Thai-Cambodian
border." In addition, since 1982, the U.S. has provided the
ANS and KPNLF with covert and overt "humanitarian" and
"non lethal" military aid. By 1989, the secret non lethal
aid had grown to between $20 million and $24 million annually
and the overt humanitarian aid had reached $5 million. The Bush
administration requested $7 million more in humanitarian aid for
When Congress approved the $5 million aid package for the ANS
and KPNLF in 1985, it prohibited use of the aid "...for the
purpose or with the effect of promoting, sustaining or augmenting,
directly or indirectly, the capacity of the Khmer Rouge...to conduct
military or paramilitary operations in Cambodia or elsewhere...."
From the beginning, U.S. aid for the ANS and KPNLF has been a
complimentary source of aid for the Khmer Rouge. According to
a western diplomat stationed in Southeast Asia, ".. .two-thirds
of the arms aid to the noncommunist forces appears to come from
Peking [Beijing], along with more extensive aid to the communist
fighters [the Khmer Rouge].... China is estimated to spend $60
million to $100 million yearly in aid to all factions of the anti-Vietnamese
In 1982, under pressure from the U.S., China, and the Association
of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN), Sihanouk and Son Sann joined
forces with the Khmer Rouge to form the Coalition Government of
Democratic Kampuchea (CGDK). The ANS and KPNLF, which were more
politically respect able than the Khmer Rouge, gained military
credibility from the guerrilla alliance. However, the Khmer Rouge
gained considerable political legitimacy from the alliance and
Khmer Rouge diplomats now represent the CGDK at the United Nations.
The CGDK receives large amounts of military aid from Singapore.
When asked about the relationship between money from the U.S.
and arms from Singapore, another U.S. diplomat in Southeast Asia
replied, "Let's put it this way. If the U.S. supplies [the
guerrilla coalition] with food, then they can spend their food
money on something else."
Direct U.S. Aid
But there are indications of direct U.S. Iinks to the Khmer Rouge.
Former Deputy Director of the CIA, Ray Cline, visited a Khmer
Rouge camp inside Cambodia in November 1980. When asked about
the visit, the Thai Foreign Ministry denied that Cline had illegally
crossed into Cambodian territory. However, privately, the Thai
government admitted that the trip had occurred. Cline's trip to
the Pol Pot camp was originally revealed in a press statement
released by Khmer Rouge diplomats at the United Nations.
Cline also went to Thailand as a representative of the Reagan-Bush
transition team and briefed the Thai government on the new administration's
policy toward Southeast Asia. Cline told the Thais the Reagan
administration planned to "strengthen its cooperation"
with Thailand and the other ASEAN members opposed to the Phnom
Penh government. There have been numerous other reports about
direct links between the CIA and the Khmer Rouge. According to
Jack Anderson, "through China, the CIA is even supporting
the jungle forces of the murderous Pol Pot in Cambodia."
Sihanouk himself admitted that CIA advisers were present in Khmer
Rouge camps in late 1989: "Just one month ago, I received
intelligence informing me that there were U.S. advisers in the
Khmer Rouge camps in Thailand, notably in Site B camp.... The
CIA men are teaching the Khmer Rouge human rights! The CIA wants
to turn tigers into kittens!
By late 1989 the distinction between "direct or indirect"
U.S. support for the Khmer Rouge was less clear. When CGDK forces
launched an offensive in September 1989, Sihanouk's and Son Sann's
armies openly cooperated with the Khmer Rouge. Moreover, by then
the Khmer Rouge had infiltrated the military and political wings
of the ANS and KPNLF.
Sihanouk confirmed ANS and KPNLF military collaboration with the
Khmer Rouge in a radio message broadcast clandestinely in Cambodia.
"I would particularly like to commend the fact that our three
armies know how to cordially cooperate with one another...We assist
each other in every circumstance and cooperate with one another
on the battlefield of the Cambodian motherland...., Sihanouk specifically
mentioned military cooperation in battles at Battambang, Siem
Reap, and Oddar Meanchey.
Evidence of increased involvement of U.S. military advisers in
Cambodia has also begun to surface. A report in the London Sunday
Correspondent noted that "American advisers are reported
to have been helping train guerrillas of the non communist Khmer
resistance and may have recently gone into Cambodia with them....Reports
of increased U.S. involvement have also emerged from the northern
town of Sisophon, where local officials say four westerners accompanied
guerrillas in an attack on the town last month.''
Although the U.S. government denies supplying the ANS and KPNLF
with military hardware, a recent report claimed that KPNLF forces
had received a shipment of weapons from the U.S. including M-16s,
grenade launchers, and recoilless rifles. It has also been reported
that the U.S. is providing the KPNLF with high resolution satellite
photographs and "several KPNLF commanders claim Americans
were sent to train some 40 elite guerrillas in the use of sophisticated
U.S.-made Dragon anti-tank missiles in a four-month course that
ended last month." When the KPNLF launched a major offensive
on September 30, a large number of U.S. officials were sighted
in the border region, near the fighting.
Washington's link to the anti-Phnom Penh guerrilla factions was
formalized in 1989 when KPNLF diplomat Sichan Siv was appointed
as a deputy assistant to President George Bush. Siv's official
assignment in the White House is the Public Liaison Office, where
he works with different constituency groups, such as Khmer residents
in the U.S. and other minority, foreign policy, youth, and education
groups. Sives escaped from Cambodia in 1976 and immigrated to
the U.S., where he joined the KPNLF. From 1983 to 1987, Siv served
as a KPNLF representative at the United Nations as part of the
CGDK delegation which was headed by Khmer Rouge diplomats.
As part of the Bush administration, Sichan Siv is significantly
involved in the formulation and conduct of U.S. policy in Cambodia.
He was a "senior adviser" to the U.S. delegation attending
an international conference on Cambodia held last summer in Paris,
where the U.S. demanded the dismantling of the Hun Sen government
and the inclusion of the Khmer Rouge in an interim four-party
government. He was also the moderator of a White House briefing
on Cambodia in October 1989 for Khmer residents in the U.S.
Another one of Siv's assignments has been to work as a liaison
with far Right groups which provide political and material support
for the KPNLF. He attended a World Anti Communist League (WACL)
conference in Dallas, Texas in September 1985 along with other
anti-communist "freedom fighters" from around the world.
At the WACL conference, the KPNLF openly sought "outside
training and support in intelligence and demolition.''
Siv has also worked with retired U.S. Army Brigadier General Theodore
Mataxis, who heads up the North Carolina-based Committee for a
Free Cambodia (CFC). Mataxis was approached by senior KPNLF generals
in 1986 to set up the CFC to organize support in the U.S. for
Right Wing Support
According to the Reagan doctrine, the goal of U.S. foreign policy
was to "contain Soviet expansion" by supporting counterrevolutionary
groups in Angola, Nicaragua, Cambodia, etc. and, in essence, "roll
back" the "Soviet empire." Many of the right wing
groups which gained prominence after Reagan's election immediately
started programs to support contras across the globe. The World
Anti-Communist League, the Heritage Foundation, the Freedom Research
Foundation, as well as many others, all pressed hard for support
of the "freedom fighters.''
In its 1984 policy report entitled, Mandate for Leadership II:
Continuing the Conservative Revolution, the Heritage Foundation
called on the Reagan administration to focus even more closely
on these counterrevolutionary struggles and to: ...employ paramilitary
assets to weaken those communist and noncommunist regimes that
may already be facing the early stages of insurgency within their
borders and which threaten U.S. interests....Cambodia, Laos, Vietnam
reflect such conditions, as do Angola, Ethiopia, Afghanistan,
Nicaragua, Iran and Libya.
In 1984, right wing activist / adventurer Jack Wheeler stated
that "[t]here are eight anti-Soviet guerrilla wars being
conducted in the third world at this moment....Sooner or later,
one of these movements is going to win....The first successful
overthrow of a Soviet puppet regime may, in fact, precipitate
a 'reverse domino effect,' a toppling of Soviet dominos, one after
Not surprisingly, Wheeler is a big supporter of the Cambodian
contra movement and has openly solicited material and political
support for the KPNLF. In August 1984 he wrote an article for
the Moonie-owned Washington Times in which he said, "After
spending a week with the KPNLF inside Cambodia...one is drawn
inescapably to the conclusion that the KPNLF does indeed represent
a real third noncommunist alternative for Cambodia....[But] the
KPNLF is...running seriously low on weapons and ammunition. The
lack of ammunition for rifles, rocket launchers, machine guns
and mortars, is especially critical.''
Just how "private" the support Wheeler solicits for
the KPNLF is open to question. Listed, along with Wheeler, on
the Board of Directors of Freedom Research Foundation are Alex
Alexiev and Mike Kelly. Alexiev is "with the National Security
Division of the Rand Corporation. . . [and is] an expert on Soviet
activities in the third world." Kelly was Deputy Assistant
Secretary of the Air Force for Manpower Resources and Military
Personnel in the early 1980s. Kelly had earlier been a legislative
assistant to the right wing Senators Bill Armstrong (Rep.-Colo.)
and John Tower(Rep.-Tex.).
Soldier of Fortune (SOF) magazine also journeyed to Cambodia in
support of the KPNLF. In an article written after their visit
to the front, SOF authors David Mills and Dale Andrade appealed
for readers to contribute to the KPNLF and to send their donations
to a Bangkok address. "Any private citizen who wants to give
more than just moral support to help the KPNLF rebels can send
"Any private citizen who wants to give more than just moral
support to help the KPNLF rebels can send money." It doesn't
take much. Forty dollars will buy two uniforms, one pair of shoes,
two pairs of socks, knapsack, plastic sheet and a scarf for one
soldier. That's not a bad deal.''
Ted Mataxis Rides Again
Retired Brigadier-General Ted Mataxis personifies the historic
ties of the U.S. to the KPNLF. In 1971-72, Mataxis worked with
General Sak Sutsakhan when he was chief of the U.S. Military Equipment
Delivery Team (MEDT) in Phnom Penh. Mataxis's official role was
to supervise the delivery of U.S military aid to then-Cambodian
Premier Lon Nol. However, Mataxis's assignment also included a
covert role-over seeing the escalation of U.S. forces in Cambodia
after the April 1970 U.S. invasion. Mataxis was well suited for
working on covert operations in Cambodia, having trained at the
Army's Strategic Intelligence School in the late 1940s.
Despite a 1970 congressional ban on aid to the Lon Nol army, there
continued to be reports of MEDT personnel working as advisers
to the Cambodian military. There were also reports of U.S. helicopters
providing transport for Cambodian troops as well as supplying
them with ammunition during battles. The U.S. also opened a radio
station at Pochentong Airport, near Phnom Penh, to "help
coordinate air support for Cambodian troops."
When Mataxis retired from the U.S. Army in 1972, he began working
as a "military consultant" to the Defense Ministry of
Singapore. "When I was down in Singapore I worked with them
[Sak and the other Lon Nol generals] very closely. We used to
do repairs on their ships and other things," Mataxis explained.
"When Congress cut off money to them in 1973, they came down
to see what Singapore could do to help them out. I got a team
together from Singapore, and we went up to Phnom Penh. We made
arrangements to buy old brass, old weapons and other stuff [to
sell for profit] so they'd have money for supplies and other things."
Under U.S. law, old U.S. weapons and scrap metal military equipment
provided to allies is U.S. property, but there was no known official
objection to Mataxis's end run around the congressional ban on
U.S. military aid to the Lon Nol generals.
Mataxis recalled when Major General Pak Son Anh (who at the time
worked closely with General Sak, the military commander of the
KPNLF) visited him in Washington in 1986. "They [Pak and
other KPNLF officers] came to see me and asked what I could do.
They came up to my office at the Committee for a Free Afghanistan....They
asked us to set up something like that [for the KPNLF]. So I went
over to see Admiral [Thomas] Moorer. I took General Pak along
and asked Admiral Moorer if he could act as a Godfather for us.
He said, 'Yes, you can use my name.' Moorer was chairman of the
Joint Chiefs of Staff when Mataxis was head of the MEDT, and Mataxis's
work in Cambodia was supervised by Moorer and Admiral John Mc
Cain, Commander-in-Chief, Pacific Forces, 1968-72.
Mataxis spent much of 1987 setting up the Committee for a Free
Cambodia (CFC). He visited General Sak in Thailand to determine
the KPNLF's needs and promoted the KPNLF in the U.S. "I set
it up for Pak to go to one of those American Security Council
meetings [in Washington] in 1986. Then we had another one in 1987,
where guerrillas from around the world came.... They'd get together
and each guerrilla group would have a chance to get up and give
his bit. It gave them a chance to exchange ideas and say what
they were doing," Mataxis stated. Right wing support has
been an important factor in keeping the Cambodian contras supplied.
Even though Ted Mataxis lost in Vietnam, his war is not over.
Although most people believe that the U.S. ended its intervention
in Southeast Asia in 1975, it is evident from the information
provided here that the U.S. continues to support repressive and
non-democratic forces in the jungles of Cambodia. When asked about
U.S. policy in Cambodia during an April 26, l990 ABC News special,
Rep. Chester Atkins (Dem. Mass.) characterized it as "a policy
The U.S. is directly responsible for millions of deaths in Southeast
Asia over the past 30 years. Now, the U.S. government provides
support to a movement condemned by the international community
as genocidal. How long must this policy of hatred continue?