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'Truth Becomes the Enemy' for Former Public Face of Khmer Rouge

[Editor's note: Head of state and spokesman for the Khmer Rouge when it rose to power, Khieu Samphan is widely believed under investigation by the special tribunal courts for trial on atrocity crimes. On Oct. 11, he gave VOA Khmer his longest interview since the indictments of two of his comrades, chief ideologue Nuon Chea and torture center director Duch. This is part two of a five-part series.]

Khieu Samphan, the former public face of the Khmer Rouge, said this week the truth was being manipulated to become his enemy.

The Khmer Rouge had fought hard to keep Cambodia sovereign, "but in the end we are charged with genocide," Khieu Samphan said during a 90-minute phone interview with VOA Khmer.

In rhetoric peppered with the kind of paranoia that eventually manifested itself in homicidal purges within the regime, Khieu Samphan said Vietnam would have annexed Cambodia into an Indochinese federation had the Khmer Rouge not risen against it.

Vietnamese overtures to the Khmer Rouge to become "like the Viet Minh" were rebuffed, Khieu Samphan said, because Pol Pot wanted to be "independent and self-sufficient."

Khieu Samphan was educated in France. He moved back to Cambodia a math teacher and became progressively political. In 1967 he fled secret police of then-prince Norodom Sihanouk. He joined the communist guerrillas at Oral Mountain and rose through their ranks as they slowly took over the country. By the time the Khmer Rouge took Phnom Penh, he was one of the most-trusted leaders, becoming their spokesman and nominal head of state. He has said was not involved in the policies that led to the mass death and torture of his countrymen.

Khieu Samphan said this week he was an intellectual and did not command troops. "I cannot command my own people to die," he said.

He declined to say whom he thought might be indicted by Cambodia's hybrid genocide tribunal.

"I only want to talk about history, which is the truth, so that the Khmer people know their own history," said the man whose regime dismantled Cambodia's education system and executed its teachers.

"[The Khmer Rouge] fought very hard, we had a hard time, and there were many deaths, but in the end [we were] charged with genocide," he said. "Black becomes white, and the truth becomes the enemy. Do not believe foreigners, and don't be divided."