How Thailand aids the Khmer Rouge


By Craig Etcheson

Thailand is emerging from the Cambodian peace process as a big loser. Patient efforts by the UN in Cambodia to cut Thai military and business links to the Khmer Rouge have yielded little but frustration.

The United Nations Transitional Authority in Cambodia (UNTAC) carefully documented the Thai alliance with the Khmer Rouge (KR). UNTAC reports show destruction of the Cambodian environment by Thais working for the KR; the presence of Thai troops in KR zones in violation of the 1991 Paris agreement; and increased Thai deliveries of weapons to the KR in April and May 1993.

More recently, the UN prepared reports on Thai military collusion with the KR attack on the Proah Vihear temple, on the KR seizure of UN peacekeepers on Thai territory in the present of Thai troops, and on Thai support for the KR during the Phum Chat government offensive.

All of these reports were suppressed by the UN Secretariat in New York for fear the Thai military might cut UNTAC's logistical supply line through Thailand. Official Thai statements on the subject of Cambodia and the Khmer Rouge no longer have credibility with the UN Security Council.

Thai Foreign Minister Pasong Soonsiri responds with the insupportable assertion, "The Thai people have never helped the Khmer Rouge". He is either poorly briefed or disingenuous. Without Thai support the Khmer Rouge war machine would have ground to a halt many years ago.

In 1979, Prime Minister Kriangsak said of the Khmer Rouge, "Normally we don't allow foreign troops to enter our country ... we would disarm them and put them into separate detention." This was not true. Far from disarming them, Thailand actually armed the Khmer Rouge. The Supreme Command said recently, "If armed soldiers cross the border, they will first be disarmed and then detained ..."

There is no reason to believe such statements are any more truthful in 1993 then they were in 1979. Continuing Thai support for Pol Pot has been widely reported. The Economist, the Far Eastern Economic Review, Time magazine, the Foreign Broadcast Information Service, Cambodia Peace Watch, and Indochina Digest have collected highly credible evidence. The evidence includes US State Department documents, UN studies, Thai National Intelligence Agency reports, aerial and satellite photos of weapons deliveries and eyewitness testimony about Thai-commanded military bases in KR zones.

Intelligence reports just before the Cambodian elections detailed an increased flow of heavy weapons from Thailand into KR zones, including new 122 mm artillery guns and shells.

In May, US officials confronted National Security Council secretary-general Charan Kulavanijaya with satellite photographs showing Thai trucks delivering weapons to the Khmer Rouge in Cambodia. General Charan rejected this evidence, telling reporters, "Thai people ... know what they are doing". The whole world knows what the Thai military is doing. Unfortunately, many Thai people do not know, or do not want to.

Senior Clinton administration officials became increasingly frustrated, at first saying privately, "Perhaps there are a few corrupt Thai generals". Patience came to an end with unprecedented public warnings in June. Assistant secretary of state Winston Lord told the US Senate that the Thai military is the "principal outside source" of support for the Khmer Rouge. He added gently, it is "not entirely clear" if it is the Thai government or the Thai military which exercises sovereignty over the Thai-Cambodia border.

Thai military officials sometimes argue they are "tolerant" toward the Khmer Rouge because to do otherwise would put Thai citizens at risk from banditry in the border area. This is tantamount to an admission that the military cannot protect the Thai people from a third-rate band of internationally reviled terrorists.

Some argue that Thailand has profited from the Cambodian crisis. Humanitarian aid was supplied by the international community to the refugees in Thailand; the Thai military controlled the distribution of this aid and collected hefty commissions in exchange for the service. Large quantities of financial and military aid were supplied by China, the United states and other countries to the rebel coalition based in Thailand; Thai military commanders demanded and received a large share of the resource flow.

The logistical support base for the UN operation in Cambodia has run through Thailand, and this too has been tapped by the Thai military for a significant yield. The Khmer Rouge have also drawn Thai military and political figures into profitable businesses based on stripping natural resources form the Cambodian countryside.

Conversely, it can be argued that Thailand has paid a dear price as a result of the Cambodian crisis, and not merely in terms of Thailand's reputation in the community of nations. This price has been exacted in the form of the corruption of public officials and damage to the fragile institutions of Thai democracy. Since Thailand initiated its close relationship with the Khmer Rouge in 1979, certain senior officers of the Thai military have become, as Thais prefer to say, "unusually rich".

The new wealth of any military officers has had a corrosive effect on Thai society, greatly adding to the capacity of the Thai military to influence the political process and distort the national interests of Thailand in favour of their own private interests. The injury to emerging Thai democratic institutions is great.

Continued Thai support for the KR poses a mortal danger to the newly elected government in Cambodia, and to the massive investment the world has made in attempting to bring peace to Cambodia.

Despite pious official denials, everyone knows Pol Pot is a frequent guest in Trat. What most people tend to forget is that Pol Pot was convicted of genocide and is still wanted in Cambodia to answer that conviction.

If the Thai military wishes to prove it supports Cambodian sovereignty, it must immediately discipline those officers helping Pol Pot's army, then arrest the criminal Pol Pot and turn him over to Cambodian authorities. Only such actions against the outlaw band of terrorists can redeem Thailand's international reputation from the damage caused by the Khmer Rouge problem.

[Dr Craig Etcheson is executive director of the Campaign to Oppose the Return of the Khmer Rouge (CORKR), a non-profit public interest group based in Washington. This article first appeared in the Bangkok newspaper Nation. It is printed here abridged.

[A CORKR has recently been established in Australia. It can be contacted by writing to PO Box 132, Yagoona NSW 2199, or phone (02) 645 4349.]