Have a Nice War,

Return to Ground Zero,

A Faustian Pact

excerpted from the book

Distant Voices

by John Pilger

Vintage Books, 1993, paper


On Veterans' Day last week, the Walt Disney company announced it was building a new theme park near Washington, devoted to a 'serious fun celebration' of American history. 'This won't be a Pollyanna view of America,' said Disney vice-president Robert Weiss. 'We want to make you feel what it was like to be a slave. We want to make you a Civil War soldier. We're going for virtual reality. And, look, we'll be sensitive about the Vietnam War.

The Vietnam War, which was America's longest war, will be part of a permanent exhibition entitled 'Victory Field'. Just how the war will be 'sensitively' depicted is not explained in Disney's handouts. Neither is there reference to other colonial wars and invasions, such as the assaults on civilian populations in Latin America, the Caribbean and the Philippines. These events are largely eradicated from primary and secondary education in the US, while the Vietnam 'experience' is taught, if at all, as a costly, well-intentioned 'mistake', even a 'noble crusade'.

The 'cost' is frequently represented in mawkish, self-serving terms that concentrate on America as victim and the relatively few American casualties of the war (compared with the Vietnamese) and the fraudulent saga of Americans missing in action, which was the device for maintaining an 18-year embargo against Vietnam. Hollywood, thankfully, has tired of Vietnam angst and moved on to other box office concerns, leaving the sustenance of myths to others.

Last Friday, the Washington Post devoted almost all of its front page to the Disney announcement and to a story headlined: 'Our place for healing'. This was the unveiling of a $4 million Vietnam War women's memorial by Vice President Al Gore. 'We never listened to the women's story,' said Gore, 'and we never properly thanked them. This memorial does that.

The bronze memorial shows three American women helping a wounded soldier. In fact, most of the women who served in Vietnam were seldom near the fighting, contrary to what is now being suggested. They were nurses, secretaries, clerks, air traffic controllers and intelligence analysts. Eight were killed in fifteen years of war.

During the same period more than five million Vietnamese died, a disproportionate number of them women. These women died beneath a rain of American bombs and 'antipersonnel' devices that made Vietnam a laboratory for the new technology of 'civilian wars'. They died in the paddies and fields, in fragile bunkers, trying to protect their children from the Napalm that struck their villages in great blood-red bursts. In North Vietnam, they died in all-woman militias, courageously putting up a curtain of small-arms fire as American F105s and Phantoms came in at 200 feet; and they died on hillsides such as Dong Loc, where I found the graves of an entire anti-aircraft battery, of young women... Vo Thi Than, aged 22, Duong Thi Than, aged 19. And they died in prison 'tiger cages', tortured to death, and from drug overdoses in brothels and bars that served the invader.

And they are still dying from the effects of the American programme of defoliation, which was known as Operation Hades until it was changed to the friendlier Operation Ranch Hand, and which destroyed almost half the forests, and poisoned the earth and food chain. As a result of the chemicals used, countless Vietnamese women continue to give birth to babies without eyes and brains.

So Gore is right when he says 'we never listened to the women's story'. In America there is no 'place for healing' for the women of Vietnam, just another reminder of how the historical truth can be manipulated in an open society. President Bush may have been right when he announced in 1991 that his 'victory' in the Gulf had extinguished the 'Vietnam syndrome', which is the euphemism for the deep misgivings of many Americans for what their government did in Vietnam.

I happened to be interviewing a former US government official, who served in South East Asia the day after the Disney announcement and the memorial unveiling. A troubled man, he spoke about the killing of a third of the population of East Timor by the Indonesian dictatorship, which was armed and encouraged by the same Washington group responsible for the devastation of Vietnam; he mentioned Henry Kissinger's name a great deal. Looking out at the falling leaves in Connecticut Avenue, he said, 'You know, I walk past these [Vietnam] memorials and I think it's a real shame people are not aware that our dead are a fraction of those we killed or whose deaths we oversaw. This distance between myth, the big lie, and truth, is amazing to me, even after all these years.'

There will be no tableau for East Timor in Disney's 'Victory Field'. And I doubt if El Salvador will be represented, even though the truth of what happened there - and is still happening - made a brief public appearance last week. Some 12,000 official documents, released under pressure from Congress, revealed that Presidents Reagan and Bush conspired with the tyrants running the death squads in El Salvador. Some 75,000 people were killed between 1980 and 1991, most of them murdered by death squads and by government 'security forces', equipped, funded and often trained by the US. Today, El Salvador is said to be a United Nations 'peace triumph'. In fact, friends of Reagan and Bush are still running the death squads. In August, they killed 271 'suspected leftists'.' This is their contribution to the election next month, in which the left and popular forces have been persuaded by the UN to take part. President Clinton has promised to restore $11 million in aid to the new El Salvador regime.

And will the 'sensitive' treatment of Vietnam by Disney extend to Operation Restore Hope in Somalia? The similarities are striking. The American 'gunship' attacks on civilians are little different from Vietnam, where the helicopter 'gunship' was developed as an effective means of 'pacifying' people on the ground. And Clinton, who is said to have opposed the war in Vietnam, has strongly backed its rapacious echo in Somalia. Most of the dead are, of course, 'local' - a Washington term. In Vietnam, they were known as 'mercies', short for 'merely gooks'.

In the second half of the twentieth century, the Vietnam War provides us with a unique historical context; it remains the touchstone for understanding modern imperialism. Those who were seduced into believing that George Bush sent the marines to Somalia for charitable purposes would have been spared their present disillusionment had they referred to the 'saviour' role of the marines in Vietnam in 1965. The places, personalities and immediate goals may change; the presumptions of power do not.

I think Disney should not be too 'sensitive' in its approach to Vietnam. It should proclaim that the war was at least a partial victory for America. Most of the American objectives were met. Vietnam was physically ruined and the 'virus' of its alternative development model stopped from spreading to the region. An American-led blockade forced the Vietnamese to all but abandon the gains of their system, such as universal health care and education, and to welcome the IMF and the World Bank, which are presently busy 'restructuring' the country to fit into the 'global economy'. After a half century of repelling invaders, the Vietnamese now advertise themselves as 'the cheapest labour in Asia'. I have never quite understood why Hollywood failed to acknowledge this achievement. Surely, in the 'virtual reality' of Disney's Victory Field, the time is right.


New evidence from US government documents, declassified in 1987, leaves no doubt that the bombing of Cambodia caused such widespread death and devastation that it was critical in Pol Pot's drive for power. 'They are using damage caused by B52 strikes as the main theme of their propaganda,' the CIA director of operations reported on May 2, 1973. 'This approach has resulted in the successful recruitment of a number of young men. Residents [...] say the propaganda campaign has been effective with refugees in areas that have been subject to B52 strikes. What Nixon and Kissinger began, Pol Pot completed.

The United Nations has provided Pol Pot's vehicle of return. Although the Khmer Rouge government ceased to exist in January 1979, its representatives continued to occupy Cambodia's seat at the United Nations. Their right to do so was defended and promoted by the United States as part of their new alliance with China (Pol Pot's principal underwriter and Vietnam's ancient foe), their cold war with the Soviet Union and their revenge on Vietnam. In 1981 President Carter's national security advise; Zbigniew Brzezinski, said, 'I encouraged the Chinese to support Pol Pot.' The United States, he added, 'winked publicly' as China sent arms to the Khmer Rouge through Thailand.

By January 1980, the United States had begun secretly funding Pol Pot. The extent of this support - $85 million from 1980 to 1986 - was revealed six years later in correspondence between Congressional lawyer Jonathan Wine; counsel to a member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, and the Vietnam Veterans of America Foundation. Winer said the information had come from the Congressional Research Service.


... Two American relief aid workers, Linda Mason and Roger Brown, later wrote, 'The US Government insisted that the Khmer Rouge be fed... the US preferred that the Khmer Rouge operation benefit from the credibility of an internationally known relief operation. 112 Under American pressure, the World Food Programme handed over $12 million worth of food to the Thai Army to pass on to the Khmer Rouge. '20,000 to 40,000 Pol Pot guerrillas benefited,' according to former Assistant Secretary of State Richard Holbrooke.


As each of the principal speakers rose from his chair in the ornate Quai d'Orsay, a silver-headed man a dozen feet away watched them carefully. His face remained unchanged; he wore a fixed, almost petrified smile. When Secretary of State James Baker declared that Cambodia should never again return to 'the policies and practices of the past', the silver head nodded. When Prince Sihanouk acknowledged the role of Western governments in the 'accords', the silver head nodded. Khieu Samphan, Pol Pot's face to the world, is a statesman now, a peacemaker; and this was as much his moment as Sihanouk's; for without his agreement - that is, Pol Pot's agreement - there would be no 'accords'. When a French official offered him his hand, the statesman stood, respectful, fluent in diplomatic small-talk and effusive in his gratitude - the same gratitude he had expressed in the two letters he had written to Douglas Hurd congratulating the British Government on its policy on Cambodia .135 It was Khieu Samphan who, at one of Pol Pot's briefing sessions for his military commanders in Thailand, described his diplomatic role as 'buying time in order to give you comrades the opportunity to carry out all your [military] tasks'. In Paris, on October 23, 1991, he had the look of a man who could not believe his luck.

Some 6,000 miles away, on the Thai side of the border with Cambodia, the Khmer people of Site 8 had a different view of the world being shaped for them. Although supplied by the United Nations Border Relief Operation (IJNBRO), this camp had long been a Khmer Rouge operations base


and, since 1988, had been made into a showcase by Pol Pot. Its leadership was elected; the Red Cross and selected journalists were allowed in. Whisky was produced. Faces smiled, much as Khieu Samphan smiled. The object of this image-building exercise was clear: to persuade Western governments that the Khmer Rouge have 'changed', are now following a 'liberal capitalist line' and could be legitimised as part of a 'comprehensive settlement'.

As Khieu Samphan raised his glass in Paris, a nightmare began for the people of Site 8. The gates were closed, and foreigners told to stay away. A few days earlier the camp's leaders had been called to a 'meeting' with senior Khmer Rouge officials and were not seen again. The camp library, central to the showpiece, was closed and people were told they must no longer be 'poisoned by foreign ideas' as they prepared to return to the 'zones'. From here and in the 'closed camps' run by the Khmer Rouge along the border, the forcible, secret repatriation of hundreds, perhaps thousands of refugees had begun.

They crossed minefields at night and were herded into 'zones of free Kampuchea' in malarial jungles without UN protection, food or medicine. Even as the UN High Commission for Refugees announced that an orderly return of all 370,000 refugees was underway, there were as many as 100,000 refugees in Khmer Rouge border camps and more were trapped in the 'zones', to which UN inspectors had only limited access or none at all.

If the 'peace process' was proving a theatre of the macabre, Prince SIhanouk provided his own theatre of the absurd. As decided in Paris, he returned to Phnom Penh in November 1991 to head the transitional 'supreme national council', made up of representatives of his followers, the KPNLF, the Hun Sen Government and the Khmer Rouge. 'I am returning to protect my children,' he said. 'There is joie de vivre again. Nightclubs have reopened with taxi dancers. I am sure soon there will be massage parlours. It is our way of life: it is a good life. 1137 He brought with him four chefs, supplies of pâté de foie gras hurriedly acquired from Fauchon, one of Paris's most famous gourmet shops, a caravan of bodyguards and hangers-on, including two sons with dynastic ambitions. (With their father ensconced in his old palace, Prince Ranariddh and Prince Chakrapong have set their private armies on each other. 'Anyway,' said Ranariddh, 'my brother has run out of troops.' Prince SIhanouk described this as 'just a small clash.., they are good boys, but as brothers there is bickering. They never got on as children.'

Many Cambodians were pleased to see the 'god-king', and the elderly struggled to kiss his hand. It seemed the world had again located Cambodia on the map. The cry, 'Sihanouk is back' seemed to signal a return to the days before the inferno of the American bombing and the rise of the Khmer Rouge. Sihanouk's presence even suggested to some that the Khmer Rouge had surrendered. For them the Paris 'accords' meant that the United Nations would protect them. They could be pardoned for failing to comprehend the perversity of an agreement which empowered the United Nations to protect the right of the genocidists to roam the cities and countryside free from harm and retribution, and which had appointed two of Pol Pot's henchmen to a body, the Supreme National Council, on which they could not be outvoted. This was described by Congressman Chet Atkins, one of the few American politicians to speak for the Cambodian people, as 'the consequence of a Faustian pact' with Pol Pot.

At one of his many press conferences, Sihanouk was asked about the Khmer Rouge. 'In their hearts', he said, 'they remain very cruel, very Maoist, very Cultural Revolution, very Robespierre, very French Revolution, very bloody revolution. They are monsters, it is true... but since they decided to behave as normal human beings, we have to accept them... naughty dogs and naughty Khmer Rouge, they need to be caressed.' At this, he laughed, and most of the foreign press laughed with him. His most important statement, however, caused hardly a ripple. 'Cambodians', he said, 'were forced by the five permanent members of the UN Security Council... to accept the return of the Khmer Rouge'.

The following day Khieu Samphan arrived to join the prince on the Supreme National Council. Suddenly, the gap between private pain and public fury closed, and the people of Phnom Penh broke their silence. 141 The near-lynching of Khieu Samphan might have been influenced by the Hun Sen Government, but there could be no doubt that it was heartfelt. Within a few hours of landing at Pochentong Airport, Pot Pot's emissary was besieged on the top floor of his villa. Crouched in a cupboard, with blood streaming from a head wound, he listened to hundreds of people shouting, 'Kill him, kill him, kill him.' They smashed down the doors and advanced up the stairs, armed with hatchets. Many of them had lost members of their families during the years that he was in power, at Pot Pot's side. One woman called out the names of her dead children, her dead sister, her dead mother - all of them murdered by the Khmer Rouge. The mob dispersed after Hun Sen arrived and spoke to them. Khieu Samphan and Son Sen (who had escaped the attack) were bundled into an armoured personnel carrier and taken to the airport, and flown back to Bangkok.

On April 17, 1975, the first day of Year Zero, the Khmer Rouge entered Phnom Penh and marched the entire population into the countryside, many of them to their death. Generally, people did as they were told. The sick and wounded were dragged at gunpoint from their hospital beds; surgeons were forced to leave patients in mid-operation. On the road, a procession of mobile beds could be seen, with their drip-bottles swinging at the bedposts. The old and crippled soon fell away and their families were forced to go on. III and dying children were carried in plastic bags. Women barely out of childbirth staggered forward, supported by parents. Orphaned babies, forty-one by one estimate, were left in their cradles at the National Paediatric Hospital without anyone to care for them. The Khmer Rouge said that the Americans were about to bomb the city. Many believed this, but even among those who did not, defeatism, fear and exhaustion seemed to make them powerless. The haemorrhnage of people lasted two days and two nights, then Cambodia fell into shadow.

... According to the Cambodia specialist Raoul Jennac the Khmer Rouge were given 'the perfect ally... time'. 'They are not prisoners of a calendar they would impose on themselves,' he wrote. 'They have succeeded in eight months of "peace" in reinforcing their military positions without having conceded anything, while the other parties, respecting their promise [at Paris], have begun a process which puts then, a little more each day, in a position of weakness. This is, to date, the real result of the IN operation in Cambodia. As Jennar and others pointed out, those running the UN operation in Cambodia were so committed to the 'peace plan' working, they 'hide the truth'.

The truth is that the Paris agreement gave the Khmer Rouge a long-term advantage, having already caused 'Lebanonisation' of the country. Although a principal sponsor of the 'accords', the United States continued to give unilateral aid to the so-called 'non-communist' factions. The US government aid agency, USAID, spent several million dollars building a strategic road and facilities across the Thai border into the KPNLF headquarters at Thmar Pouk . The Thai Army were, as ever, zealous collaborators in such ventures. At one crossing, Thai soldiers escorted Thais to work in the gem mines controlled by the Khmer Rouge: the source of great wealth for both the Khmer Rouge and the Thai generals.

In Phnom Penh under the UN unreality persisted. Echoing Neville Chamberlain, the head of UNTAC, Japanese diplomat Yasushi Akashi, 'publicly rebuked' the Khmer Rouge for their lack of co-operation. 1-17 General Sanderson said, 'It's outrageous ... them stopping our people'. 158 One of his officers, a Dutch colonel, complained about dealing with the Khmer Rouge, 'One day a nobody is a somebody,' he said, 'then a somebody is a nobody. A corporal becomes a colonel. They are friendly one day and unfriendly the next.' A Western diplomat said he 'hoped' the Khmer Rouge 'will take a pragmatic approach'.

In the meantime, the Khmer Rouge stepped up their attacks. During the first half of 1992 their immediate aim was to gain control of two strategic highways leading to Phnom Penh and so cut off the northern provinces from the capital. But Khmer Rouge commanders were also securing and expanding their 'zones'. They did this by laying minefields around villages so as to deter people from leaving the areas they control. This is known as 'population control'. People who try to escape or stray into a mine-infested paddy, as children frequently do, become a 'strategic drain on the community': that is, a burden on the Government in Phnom Penh.

Cambodia has long been a war of mines; all sides use them, and refer to them as 'eternal sentinels, never sleeping, always ready to attack'. In September 1991 the leading American human rights organisation, Asia Watch, published a report entitled 'Land Mines in Cambodia: The Coward's War'. Even for those who have known Cambodia's suffering it is a shocking document - all the more so for its expert attention to the aims and techniques of mine-laying and its effect on an impoverished peasant people.

One of the authors is Rae McGrath, a former British serviceman who is director of the Mines Advisory Group. What McGrath and his colleagues found was 'the highest percentage of physically disabled inhabitants of any country in the world... the highest percentage of mine amputees of any country... Surgeons in Cambodia perform between 300 and 700 amputations a month because of mine injuries... for every victim who makes it to hospital, another will die in the fields.' 'These grim statistics', says their report, 'mean that the Cambodian war may be the first in history in which land mines have gained more victims than any other weapons.

I have seen many of the victims. They are usually civilians, such as 23-year-old Rong, a beautiful young woman lying in the hospital at Kompong Spen with her three-year-old infant beside her. When she stepped on a mine she fell into water and lay for three hours, bleeding. When her father found her, he applied a tourniquet, carried her to the road and flagged down a motorcycle taxi. He took her to a first-aid post; it was seven hours before she reached hospital. In Cambodia direct transport is always difficult to come by; a twenty-mile excursion by bicycle, motorcycle taxi and horse may take a day. The mine that Rong stepped on had driven dirt and bacteria deep into the wound, causing infection to spread fast. The blood vessels had coagulated and there was thrombosis high up her leg. Had she been able to get to the hospital quickly, her leg might have been saved. 'I knew there were mines around,' she said. 'Every day I was in fear of them. But the work has to be done.'

Her story is typical. There is little hope for her future. Describing the after-effects of amputation, the Asia Watch researchers wrote:

Nearly every aspect of a Cambodian's life is set to the rhythm of rice cultivation - the flooding, the planting, the re-planting and harvesting. It is very labour intensive... And a person who is physically disabled can become a burden. There are no rehabilitation centres, and Cambodia has no laws to protect amputees against discrimination or exploitation. Female amputees are less desirable as wives because they cannot work in the fields, and male amputees are now allowed to become Buddhist monks. Many amputees drift to Phnom Penh and become beggars or petty criminals.

The laying of mines in Cambodia, said Colonel Alan Beaver, '( the first UN officer responsible for mines clearance, 'is probably one of the worst modem, man-made environmental disasters of the century'. 163 The United Nations repatriated tens of thousands of refugees back to countryside made uninhabitable by mines and without even a strategy for a major mine-clearing operation. The Khmer Rouge refused to allow UN cartographers to assess the extent of their minefields, and the UN said it could not begin large-scale mine clearance 'until the necessary cash resources become available'. In 1991-2 the UN was $800 million in arrears, half of which was owed by the United States. Cambodia would be cleared of mines, said the sceptics, by people stepping on them.

From 1979 to 1992 UN Development Programme (UNDP) in New York withheld development aid from Cambodia as a result of pressure from the United States, China, Britain and Singapore. Development aid comes in the form of tools, materials and expertise, with which poor countries can make a start at developing themselves. It provides such essentials as a clean water supply and decent sanitation. Cambodia has neither. Jim Howard of Oxfam estimated that less than 5 per cent of the country's drinking water was uncontaminated. In 1988 Thames Water sent a team to Phnom Perth and found that as the level of water in the city's pipes rose and fell, it spilled into the streets and drew in drainage and raw sewage. They recommended that an entirely new system be installed urgently. This has not happened, of course. There are still no resources and most of Cambodia's engineers were killed. In any other Third World country, the UNDP would fund such a priority project.

In 1988 a senior diplomat at the British embassy in Bangkok told-Oxfam's Eva Mysliwiec 'Cambodia is a country of about seven million people It's of no real strategic value. As -far as Britain is concerned, it's expendable." Cambodia's expendability, and punishment, are exemplified by its children. Whenever I went back, I visited the National Paediatrics Hospital in Phnom Penh, the most modern hospital in the country, and I invariably found seriously ill children lying on the floors of corridors so narrow there was barely room to step over them. A relative would hold a drip; if the child was lucky, he or she would have a straw mat. Most of them suffered from, and many would die from, common diarrhoea and other intestinal ailments carried by parasites in the water supply. In hospital after hospital children died like that, needlessly and for political reasons; and they are still dying.

The international embargo ensured that hospital drug cupboards were depleted or bare; there were no vaccines; sterilisation equipment was broken; X-ray film unobtainable. At Battambang Hospital in the north-west I watched the death of an eleven-month-old baby, while her mother looked on. 'Her name is Ratanak,' she cried. Had there been a respirator and plasma, the child would have lived. A light was kept shining on her face to keep her temperature up. Then the hospital's power went down and she died.

In the north-west most of the children fall prey to epidemics of mosquito-carried diseases - cerebral malaria, Japanese encephalitis and dengue fever. 'Our particular tragedy', Dr Choun Noothorl, director of Battambang Hospital, told me, 'is that we had malaria beaten here before 1975. In the 1970s the World Health Organisation assisted us with training, medicines and funding. I remember the statistics for April 1975; we had only a handful of malaria cases; it was a triumph.'

In April 1975, when Pol Pot came to power, Battambang Hospital was abandoned, its equipment and research files destroyed and most of its staff murdered. When the Vietnamese drove out the Khmer Rouge, the World Health Organisation refused to return to Cambodia. Malaria and dengue fever did return, along with new strains which the few surviving Cambodian doctors were unable to identify because they no longer had laboratories. Today two-and-a-half million people, or a quarter of the population, are believed to have malaria. The same estimate applies to tuberculosis, which was also beaten in 1975. Most are children.

During the 1980s former senior Foreign Office official John Pedler met many of the world's foreign-policy makers in his capacity as representative of the Cambodia Trust. He later wrote to me: 'Specifically, I was told in Washington at the top career level that "the President has made it clear that the US will not accept the Hun Sen Government" and "we are working for a messy sort of situation with a non-Hun Sen government, but without the Khmer Rouge, who will continue to lurk in the jungles" i.e. for a state of affairs which will favour the destabilisation of Hanoi. This is the 'better result' that Washington's ideologues have sought in Indo-China.

Their hope is Sihanouk, who can no longer afford to trust his own people and moves among them behind a phalanx of ten North Korean bodyguards. It is Sihanouk who personifies the gap between extreme rural poverty and the better-off in the towns. As Catherine Lumby reported, 'It is a class distinction which the Khmer Rouge has traditionally been quick to exploit - paying the peasants double for their rice crop and often feeding villages in return for shelter during the civil war.

According to William Shawcross, only Sihanouk and 'a huge foreign presence and dollars in the countryside' can provide 'the best guarantee' against the return of the Khmer Rouge to power. But what will happen when there is no longer a foreign presence? Who will catch the fluttering dollars as they fall upon the villages and hamlets? And how will the dollars get further than other, deeper pockets? Such an exquisite colonial solution brings to mind again Emory Swank, the American ambassador who passed out $100 bills to relatives of those killed by American bombs - $100 then being the going rate for a Cambodian life.

These days, the Khmer Rouge would not object to such a raw show of capitalism. After all, they now advocate a 'liberal capitalist line'. Neither are they insincere, according to the historian Michael Vickery. 'They consider it [free-market capitalism],' he wrote, 'the fastest route to the type of destabilisation which will most favour their return to power.

As for Sihanouk, now astride the Trojan Horse, he is seventy-one years old; if necessary the Khmer Rouge will wait for him to die on his throne, or dispose of him quietly. They are not rushed. Everything is going to plan. Pol Pot has told his commanders to 'remain in the jungle' until they 'control all the country'. And then they will be ready."

All of this was preventable. Had the great powers kept their distance following the defeat of Pot Pot in 1978, there is little doubt that a solution could have been found in the region. In 1980 the Indonesian and Malaysian Governments - fearful of Pol Pot's chief backer, China - acknowledged that the Vietnamese had 'legitimate concerns' about the return of Pot Pot and the threat from China. In 1985 Australian Foreign Affairs Minister Bill Hayden was told by Hun Sen, 'We are ready to make concessions to Prince Sihanouk and other people if they agree to join with us to eliminate Pol Pot.'"' Four years later, reported The Economist from Paris, a Sihanouk-Hun Sen alliance against the Khmer Rouge was 'torpedoed' by the US State Department.

Perhaps the most alluring promise of peace came when Thailand's elected prime minister, Chatichai Choonhaven, invited Hun Sen to Bangkok, and Thai officials secretly visited Phnom Penh with offers of development aid and trade. Defying their own generals, the reformist Thais proposed a regional conference that would exclude the great powers. Prune Minister Chatichai's son and chief policy advise; Kraisak Choonhaven, told me in 1990, 'We want to see the Khmer Rouge kicked out of their bases on Thai soil.' He called on 'all Western powers and China to stop arming the Cambodian guerrillas'.

This represented an extraordinary about-turn for America's most reliable client in South-east Asia. In response, Washington warned the Chatichai Government that if it persisted with its new policy it would 'have to pay a price' and threatened to withdraw Thailand's trade privileges under the Generalised Special Preferences."' The regional conference never took place. In March 1991 the Chatichai Government was overthrown and the new military strongman in Bangkok, Suchinda Krapayoon, described Pol Pot as a 'nice guy', who should be treated 'fairly'. (It was Suchinda who turned the army on pro-democracy demonstrators in Bangkok, killing hundreds. He was forced to resign.)

At the same time Japan proposed that the United Nations exclude from a settlement any group that violated a ceasefire. Japan also proposed the establishment of a special commission to investigate the crimes of the Khmer Rouge. US Assistant Secretary of State Richard Solomon rejected the proposals as 'likely to introduce confusion in international peace efforts'.

Distant Voices

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