Anger greets Khmer Rouge

November 18, 1991|By The New York Times contributed to this article.

PHNOM PENH, Cambodia (AP) -- Sophan Nary broke down in tears of rage yesterday when told that the Khmer Rouge leaders who killed her entire family had returned and were staying next door to her noodle shop.

"The government can give them permission to walk in the streets, but the people won't. We will kill them," said Sophan Nary, 26, whose shop is next to the heavily guarded villa housing Khmer Rouge leader Son Sen and his entourage.

Sixteen years after triumphantly entering Phnom Penh to begin a brutal 3 1/2 -year reign, the Khmer Rouge returned yesterday to Cambodia.

Along with the government and the two other factions that fought it during a 13-year civil war, the Khmer Rouge are part of a national reconciliation council set up by a United Nations-brokered peace plan.

Few Phnom Penh residents knew of the arrival of the 10-member Khmer Rouge delegation, led by Son Sen, the former chief of its secret police.

The benign-looking, gray-haired Son Sen served as head of the Khmer Rouge army and the secret police. He is believed to be as responsible as anyone for the deaths of more than 1 million Cambodians in the 1970s. His arrival forced the still-traumatized Cambodian capital to confront the fact that the Khmer Rouge, despite its genocidal past, has been granted a formal role in the running of the nation.

At the airport yesterday morning, he was hustled into a black sedan and driven to a government guest house only a few minutes' walk from the Tuol Sleng Museum of Genocidal Crime, a former Khmer Rouge interrogation and torture center that was under his direct control in the 1970s. It is now a memorial to victims of the Khmer Rouge.

Crowds of curious passers-by quickly gathered outside the government guest house, exchanging tears and angry stories of what the bloody regime had done to them.

"We wanted to see what the killers looked like," said 36-year-old Keo Vuthy outside the guest house.

"Everybody is thinking of revenge," he said, adding that he lost a brother and a sister to the Khmer Rouge. His fists clenched and his face creased with determination.

Din Sothea, a 41-year-old employee of the Ministry of Industry, also showed up outside the guest house. He listed the deaths on his fingers: "I lost my sister. . . . I lost my parents -- my mother, my father."

Din Sothea said he was forced to work for three years -- 18 to 20 hours a day, seven days a week -- on a rice farm in southern Takeo province. "We will never forget what the Khmer Rouge has done to us," he said.

Several threatened to kill the Khmer Rouge leaders if they emerged from the walled compound.

Shortly after the Khmer Rouge arrived, Premier Hun Sen announced the return but said national television would not broadcast pictures of the delegation.

"If Son Sen goes out and the people recognize him, they might try to harm him," said Hun Sen.

He added that he would not deal with the Khmer Rouge outside actual council sessions, saying he might be "stoned by people" if he did.

While maintaining some popular support in this largely rural rice-growing nation, the Khmer Rouge is despised in the cities, whose populations it targeted as class enemies in its pursuit of a radical utopia.

The government has guaranteed the delegation's security -- although it will only allow them three bodyguards armed with pistols outside the compound.

Nearly everybody in Phnom Penh says they remain afraid of the Khmer Rouge.

"Don't believe anything the Khmer Rouge say. They are no better than dogs," said a somber Pen Chuut, one of several hundred people gathered around the guest house.

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