I am ready to fight the Thais. All we wait for is an order from Prime Minister Hun Sen…We don’t want war – we want peace and development. But we need tourists, and while the Thais do this, the tourists do not come…Thais already have their own problems in their south…Why do they want an extra problem?
– Nhem En, a Cambodian People’s Party commune leader who is described as a “[f]ormer photographer at the Khmer Rouge’s infamous Toul Sleng torture centre”. He is quoted in Bronwyn Sloan, “Khmer Rouge veterans ‘ready to fight Thailand’”, The Bangkok Post, 28 July 2008.
As Erik Davis helpfully pointed out last time I mentioned “Khmer Rouge” fighters along the border — “it would be nice to see more precision on this”. Unfortunately I am not in a position to offer any extra details on the deployment of Khmer Rouge fighters. But I would, nonetheless, like to make two quick observations.
The first is that it is worth bearing in mind that not every former Khmer Rouge fighter is as old or worn-out as the label may imply. There are former combatants who are now in their thirties (and, perhaps, even younger). The widespread use of very young soldiers by the Khmer Rouge ensures that the teenagers of the 1980s and 1990s may still be fit (to fight?).
The second observation draws directly on the quoted text. It struck me that the comments attributed to Nhem En could have come straight out of Burma. The invocation of higher political authority, the aspiration towards “peace and development”, the desire for more tourists, the idle threat to outsiders…
It is all strangely familiar.
With a new foreign minister taking charge on the Thai side the hope is, of course, that a peaceful settlement can now be reached, and soon. But while the rhetoric stays this heated I guess nothing is totally out of the question…