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Khieu Samphan: Suffering Can Be Wrong but Good

[Editor's note: Three hours before he suffered an apparent stroke Tuesday, Khieu Samphan gave a 20-minute phone interview to VOA Khmer. He was taken to a Phnom Penh hospital Wednesday, and has not talked to the media since his arrival. What follows is part three of a four-part series detailing Tuesday's interview.]

For Part Two, Click Here.

For Part Four, Click Here.

There had been mass killings, yes. And they affected almost every family. But Khieu Samphan, former nominal head of the regime responsible for the killings, said Tuesday he could not explain this.

"I can't," he said. "That's what encouraged me to do research, and now I know it."

Khieu Samphan has published two books since the fall of the Khmer Rouge. His own research did not show that the Khmer Rouge was intent on killing its own people, he said.

"So, they need more research. That is just my own view. I just want to urge Cambodian people to learn more about their own history and do more research on the killing," he said. "I totally understand that almost every family was affected by the killing. That is completely true, but why did that happen?"

"You can put the blame on the Khmer Rouge because they governed the country, but what else besides that?" he continued. "Why did the killing happen? We suffered from all kinds of bad things, trying to escape B-52 bombing, so I mean we came all the way from all kinds of suffering just to kill our own people? That is why I was wondering. Don't just believe anything they say."

Human society is different from "insects," he said, which "do things according to instinct."

"People do not just follow what their leaders said," he said. "They can't just enter a crab hole according to a leader's order. They followed what is right, but not just anything, such as the case of rebellion in Samlot at that time. Why is that?"

The history of the Khmer Rouge needs more research, he said. Historians "got things right on B-52 bombardment, but they did not get the truth about Khmer Rouge mass killings."

The role of Cambodia's army fighting Cambodians "needs to be found out," he said, hinting that researchers had glossed over portions of history. "Unfortunately, researchers did not find that. I don't blame them, as they are foreigners. Instead, I appreciate the fact that they managed to achieve that amount of work. But I just want them to do more research on that."

Asked what principles were used by the Khmer Rouge to govern, Khieu Samphan said only, "law came from the party, and the party came from the struggle. And for the struggle to succeed, we needed people."

Without similar struggle principles, Mao Zedong could not have liberated China, so the principles were good, Khieu Samphan said.

"China would not have existed through today without Mao Zedong's contribution," Khieu Samphan said. "How poor was China in the past? How badly was China insulted by the French and the English? In Shanghai, in French and English homes, at the entrance there was always a sign saying, 'No dogs or Chinese.' And now look at China! Some countries are afraid that China will become a superpower. I guess it's just economically powerful. And now look at Vietnam after its liberation, how fast it developed its economy."

"So, it does not really matter if a country has a communist regime," he continued. "If we talk about Khmers, if we had managed to liberate our country and had smooth reconstruction, even if we endured some suffering, such as starvation, it would have been wrong, but it would have been good."

There were those who considered Cambodians who were "evacuated" from the cities "war victims," he said, "but my research suggested that there was a law decree about that at the time, and even Pol Pot himself at that time again and again said not to consider the evacuated as war victims."

"We need to make sure that we treat good people or hard working people well and those who opposed us accordingly," he said.

"Regarding the killing, suffering, and starvation, I think it was not Pol Pot who caused it," Khieu Samphan said. "He alone could not do it all. Pol Pot was in charge of investigating and arresting important cadre, probably hundreds of people, not thousands. The arrests kept increasing because these cadre had their own networks, conflicts, jealousy. That is why there were extrajudicial killing."

Eventually, he said, an expression emerged from eastern zones: "No gain in keeping, no loss in killing."

"I was just wondering where the words came from, because I never heard of this, even in the meeting of the Central Committee or the Permanent Committee," he said. "So it must have come from those regional leaders…who once lived with the Vietnamese."

Later, he said, he was "shocked" to hear that a starving person could be killed for stealing a yam.

"I did not know that until late 1989," he said, "when a Khmer Rouge soldier told me about it."