Encyclopedia of Anti-Revisionism On-Line

Daniel Burstein

Kampuchea’s Foreign Minister talks to The Call

Sary confident of victory as resistance regroups

First Published: The Call, Vol. 8, No. 38, October 8, 1979.
Transcription, Editing and Markup: Paul Saba
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New York–Flushed with victory after the Sept. 21 UN vote reaffirming the legitimacy of the Pol Pot government, Kampuchea’s Foreign Minister Ieng Sary talked to me about his people’s struggle against Vietnamese aggression.

“A new dry season offensive by the Vietnamese has already begun,” he told me. “There are some newspapers predicting that the Vietnamese will wipe us out this time. But I assure you they will not. We have reorganized and regrouped our forces. Our guerrillas will be able to withstand the offensive no matter how many troops they throw at us, no matter how much Soviet equipment they employ.

Speaking of the 71-35 UN vote to continue recognizing the Pol Pot government rather than the Vietnamese puppet Heng Samrin, Sary said: “The whole world has seen the nature of the Vietnamese aggression and come to our support. Only the Soviet bloc opposes us.

I had not seen Ieng Sary since my April 1978 visit to Kampuchea, eight months before the Vietnamese invaders drove the Pol Pot government out of Phnom Penh and into the countryside, where it has been waging a resistance war ever since. Sary looked fit and healthy, despite the difficult conditions of life he and the other Kampuchean leaders have endured in the countryside base areas.

“Of course the situation in our country has changed greatly since your visit,” Sary emphasized. “At that time, we were trying to build socialism. The poor of our society were very well aware of our efforts and benefitted from them greatly.

“But the rich, the professionals, and others had a lower condition of life after our revolution and many did not support us. The people we evacuated from the cities to the countryside suffered numerous hardships. We tried to improve the situation, but still many city people were not convinced.”

Sary went on to speak about some of the problems inside the Kampuchean revolution that gave a kernel of truth to the grossly exaggerated negative propaganda against Kampuchea which appeared in the U.S. and other countries after the 1975 revolution.

Ultra-leftism was one such problem, Sary said. There were erroneous policies put into practice, as well as cases of cadres trying to implement policies that may have been correct, but were not yet grasped or accepted by the local people.

In recent months, Sary has given several interviews where he talked concretely of these mistakes, citing, for example, cases where peasants in the cooperatives were told to work at night in order to meet production levels, without the leadership taking into account the need for sufficient rest and relaxation. He has also spoken of situations in which contradictions among the people were perceived as contradictions with the enemy, the result being that purges and executions replaced political solutions to problems.

But sabotage carried out by pro-Vietnamese forces was a bigger factor leading to turmoil and bloodshed at the local level, Sary said.

Recognizing that there are many patriotic Kampucheans who have criticisms or differences with the Pol Pot government–especially among the influential Kampuchean community outside the country–Sary said that his government is seeking to find the way to unite the patriots against the enemy invaders. “To us these differences are all part of the past and should be put aside in the present,” Sary stated.

Recently, Kampuchean President Khieu Samphan issued a draft program for a new national united front. When victorious in expelling the Vietnamese invaders, the front would organize free elections under UN supervision to determine Kampuchea’s political system and leadership.

Prince Sihanouk has been asked to head up this front. Although he has not yet formally replied, Sihanouk has withdrawn an earlier initiative to head up a “third force” opposed to both the Vietnamese and Pol Pot. Ieng Sary told me, “We always regard the Prince as a great patriot. We would like him to work with us again. But it is completely up to him.”

Again and again in the interview, Ieng Sary stressed that the question now is one of whether or not the Kampuchean people and nation will continue to exist. Some 200,000 Vietnamese troops are presently occupying the country, carrying out what New York Times correspondent Henry Kamm termed in a Sept. 25 dispatch a “scorched earth policy.”

The widely-reported famine now gripping much of Kampuchea is completely the result of the Vietnamese invasion. Critics as well as supporters of the Pol Pot government agree that prior to the invasion, great achievements had been made in agriculture and the people were sufficiently fed. Now an estimated two million Kampucheans face starvation. International relief efforts going through the Vietnamese side are only worsening the situation, delivering food not to starving people but to Vietnamese troops.

Ieng Sary said that food and medical aid to the Pol Pot side is urgently needed, and that a mechanism has been set up under the auspices of the Kampuchean Red Cross to get the supplies into the guerrilla zones. “The Vietnamese are trying to use starvation as a weapon of war,” he said. “They burn the fields in whatever areas they cannot control. All types of aid from the world community are necessary to help us counter this.”

A man who has spent most of the last 20 years fighting guerrilla warfare in Kampuchea’s jungles and forests, Ieng Sary is well aware of the tremendous uphill battle the Kampuchean people are now fighting. Yet his confidence in victory was clear and unmistakable.