Cambodian Premier Pol Pot, who emerged this week as the sequestered nation's strongman, took his first step today to tone down the regime's brutal image abroad.
Pol Pot claimed that "only the smallest possible number" out of the "1 or 2 per cent" of Cambodians who opposed the revolution were "eradicated." Estimates by Western analysts who specialize in Cambodian affairs range from tens of thousands of executions by the Cambodian regime to as many as 1 million since the government came to power in April, 1975.
Former Cambodian President Lon Nol said in exile in Honolulu earlier this month that he was received reports of more than 2.5 million being killed since the Communist Khmer Rouge takeover.
The government deals with domestic "enemies" as it would with a foreign enemy, Pol Pot said, "That is by separating , educating and training elements that can be won over to the peoples' side, neutralizing any reluctant element so that they will not undermine the revolution, and isolating and eradicating only the smallest possible number."
The premier, who also holds the powerful job of secretary-general of the Communist Party, linked his mitigating claims to the first official proclamation of the party's existence and its leading role in Cambodia.
Pol Pot made his remarks in a speech at a mass meeting in Phnom Penh Tuesday to celebrate the party's 17 th anniversary, according to a Phnom Penh radio broadcast monitored in Bangkok. The five-hour speech was recorded and broadcast for the first time today, both domestically and abroad.
It may be significnt that the speech was withheld until Pol Pot met in Peking with Chinese Communist Party Chairman Hua Kuo-feng. The Cambodian leader and a retinue of close associates flew to the Chinese capital yesterday.
With Pol Pot's first official appearance in Peking, some of the mysttry surrounding him seems to have disappeared. The first photo dispatched by the New China News Agency, showing Pol Pot shaking hands with Hua, indicates a marked resemblance between Pol Pot and Saloth Sar, the former secretary-general of the Cambodian Communist Party.
A number of Cambodia watchers have maintained for some time that Pol Pot was simply a revolutionary name for Saloth Sar, whode name disappeared from the scant information coming out of Cambodia since the end of the war.
Clearly addressing his remarks to China, Pol Pot said in his Phnom Penh speech that until that moment "our friends throughout the world" had been asking themselves why Cambodia did not openly declare that its "great victory over the U.S. imperialists was due to the leadership of the Cambodian Communist Party."
Pol Pot did not answer this question directly. He noted, however, that until his proclamation, the party was simply known as the "Cambodian Revolutionary Organization." Refugees from Cambodia have constantly referred to the country's only leadership as Angka, "The Organization."
The proclamation of the Cambodian party at the same time Pol Pot is visiting Peking is certain to receive Chinese approval.
China is Cambodia's only major ally. Some analysts believe that since Hua succeeded the late Chairman Mao Tse-Tung and hte radical "Gang of Four" was purged, the new Chinese leadership has looked with disfavor on Cambodia's extremely radical policies and tactics.
A French news agency report from Peking said that in his speech at a welcoming banquet last night, Pol Pot concentrated on positive plans for the future. He made repeated references to his government's desire to improve living standards and to increase the population., which, he said, is 8 million.
Western specialists disagree on the population figure, some setting it as high as 7 million while others put it as low as 5 million. The discrepancy is based in part over differences over the numbers believed to have died since the end of the war.
Furthermore, no accurate statistics exist on the number of Cambodians killed by U.S. bombing during the five years of war in which the United Sates backed the Lon Nol regime.
In his speech to the party anniversary meeting in Phnom Penh reportedly attended by 10,000 persons. Pol Pot said that 95 per cent of all Cambodians were happily leading the lives of "middle peasants."
"The remaining five per cent, therefore, must be content with this standard," he said. The majority of the rural population is organized into cooperatives, he added, which are composed of between 100 and 1,000 households each.
Throughout his marathon address, Pol Pot stressed agricultural development by citing increases in the land area devoted to rice farming and by claiming that Cambodia is now exporting rice.
For more than a year, many of the thousands of Cambodian refugees fleeing into Thailand have claimed that they received only subsistence rations, even though they were producing more rice than before the war.
In stressing the role of peasants and making only fleeting reference to urban workers, ["Our workers were not the main force of our revolution"] Pot Pol seemed to justifying the decision to evacuate and destroy virtually all of Cambodia's cities and towns.
After enumerating revolutionary gains in such areas as medical care and illiteracy. Pol Pot noted that Cambodia was still a small and poor country. Therefore, he said, the major task facing its people is defense.
He exhorted the people and the army to defend Cambodia against "all aggressive and provocative attempts of the enemy." Although he did not name this enemy, he was probably referring to Vietnam Cambodian forces have been waging pitched battles with Vietnamese troops along parts of their frontier for months.
A number of clashes with Thai forces have also been reported on Cambodia's western border, but some analysts in Bangkok believe that China will attempt to convince Pol Pot to come to terms with the Thai government over their disputed boundary line.