On the Side of Pol Pot: U.S. Supports Khmer Rouge
by Jack Colhoun
On the Side of Pol Pot: U.S. Supports Khmer Rouge
by Jack Colhoun
Covert Action Quarterly magazine, Summer 1990
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 1990.
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 resistance."
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.