The author of a December New York Times Magazine article on the Khmer Rouge neither visited the Cambodian rebels last fall nor interviewed people quoted in the piece, Khmer Rouge officials in Bangkok said yesterday.
The article, written by a free-lancer, Christopher Jones, contained quotations attributed to top Khmer officials purportedly based on interviews in November or December.
Virtually the same quotations, attributed to the same people, appeared in a dispatch by Jones published in October, 1980, in the Asian edition of Time magazine. Time editors said they have no reason to doubt that Jones went into Cambodia in 1980.
However, Khmer Rouge officials in Bangkok recently told reporters there that Jones never interviewed Khmer officials he quoted in Time and The New York Times.
Jones' Times article also contains material borrowed nearly verbatim from "The Royal Way," a 1930 novel about Cambodia by Andre Malraux.
Jones' Times article vividly described his visit to Khmer Rouge territory, including fire fights and his meetings with top Khmer leaders.
In mid-January, The Times learned of the language Jones borrowed from Malraux when Alexander Cockburn reported it in The Village Voice. A Times Magazine editor wrote Jones on Jan. 15 asking him to clarify the matter and canceling another assignment to report on Kurds in Iran and Iraq. The Times said it has not heard back from Jones.
Reached in New York yesterday, Times Executive Editor A.M. Rosenthal said, "The first I heard of questions about Jones' article was five minutes ago." Rosenthal said he had not known of The Village Voice suggestion that Jones had plagiarized Malraux. "I've been away for a few weeks," Rosenthal said.
"As far as I'm concerned," Rosenthal added, "the man, until somebody proves otherwise, is totally honest."
Rosenthal personally supervises The Times Magazine.
Earlier, Ed Klein, editor of The Times Magazine, referred to the Jones matter as "an old, old story." Asked if he was referring to the Khmer Rouge accusation that Jones invented the story, Klein replied, "Do you have proof of that?"
Klein said Jones' article had been scrutinized by the magazine's fact checkers and that nothing seemed internally inconsistent. He noted that it was not possible to check quotations attributed to Cambodian rebels hiding in the mountains.
Klein said his staff had checked Jones out with Time magazine, which he had used as a reference. Time gave Jones a favorable recommendation, Klein said, and a Time editor confirmed this yesterday.
Jones' material about the trip he said he took into Khmer Rouge territory was offered to Time magazine last fall, according to Dick Duncan, Time's chief of correspondents. After checking the story with Time's Bangkok bureau, "We decided we didn't like the sound of it," Duncan said yesterday.
William Branigin of The Washington Post Foreign Service reported from Bangkok yesterday that Khmer Rouge representatives there denied that Jones had visited the areas described in his article or interviewed persons he quoted.
"It is not true," said Khai Chheak Bun Kim, assistant permanent representative of Democratic Kampuchea to the U.N. Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific in the Thai capital. He said Jones did spend "a few hours" in the Cambodian village of Ban Nong Pru, next to the Thai border.
Jones, a journalist in his mid-20s, was graduated from the Institute of Political Studies in Paris, according to a friend. Jones has an American father and Cuban mother and speaks fluent French and Spanish, this friend said.
Efforts to reach Jones were unsuccessful. The Times said it had an address for him in Benisa, Spain, but no telephone number, and none is available for him from Spanish information. There was no answer at a Lucarno, Switzerland, telephone that friends said belonged to Jones' family.
Time had used Jones as a special correspondent in 1980, when he first reported visiting Khmer Rouge territory. The magazine's Asian edition used a small portion of Jones' reporting then, including brief interviews with Ieng Sary, foreign minister of Democratic Kampuchea, and Khieu Samphan, the premier.
In that dispatch Jones wrote that Ieng Sary, "a big man dressed in a light green uniform," acknowledged that when the Khmer Rouge were in power, "we may have been too far to the left."
In The New York Times Magazine article, Jones quoted Ieng Sary, again described as "a big man in a light green uniform," as saying more than a year after that dispatch appeared in Time, "We may have been too far left."
In the Time dispatch of October, 1980, Jones quoted Khieu Samphan as saying: "There were no mass murders under the Khmer Rouge regime . . . . What reason would we have to kill our own people?" The same quotation appears in The New York Times article, from an interview purportedly given at the end of 1981.
The Times article also contains a passage describing a dramatic scene in Cambodia that took place at night, according to Jones. "Tracers flashed," he wrote. But when the fighting died out, he went on, "I stood up and peered through my field glasses . . . . "
Though it is still night, apparently, Jones continues: "Just then, on the summit of a distant hillside, I saw a figure that made me catch my breath: a pudgy Cambodian, with field glasses hanging from his neck. The eyes in his head looked dead and stony.
"I could not make him out in any detail, but I had seen enough pictures of the supreme leader to convince me, at that precise second, that I was staring at Pol Pot . . . . " Pol Pot is the leader of the Khmer Rouge.
Jones' article concludes with his observation of " . . . A blind man who was chanting the Ramayana, a part of Cambodia's cultural heritage, as he twanged a primitive guitar. What better personification of Cambodia could I have found than this old singer . . . ? Cambodia, a land possessed, its ancient hymns, like its temples, fallen on evil days. Of all dead lands, the most dead."
The English translation of Malraux' novel includes a description of "a blind man chanting the Ramayana as he twanged a primitive guitar. What better personification of Cambodia, of this land of decay, could he have found than that old singer . . . ? Cambodia, a land possessed, and tamed to humble uses, its ancient hymns, like its temples, fallen on evil days; of all dead lands most dead."