Waldegrave makes tacit admission of SAS link to Khmer Rouge

Commons debate: The fighting in Cambodia

Judy Jones, Independent, 14 November 1989, page 10

A TACIT admission from a Foreign Office minister that SAS forces had trained Cambodian troops fighting alongside the notorious Khmer Rouge was claimed by Labour MPs in the Commons last night.

William Waldegrave, Minister of State at the Foreign Office, provoked uproar on the Labour benches when he sidestepped a direct Opposition challenge to say whether the SAS had been training troops in Cambodia. "You know I will give no answer," he told Gerald Kaufman, the Opposition's foreign affairs spokesman.

However, Dale Campbell-Savours (Lab, Workington) asserted: "You answered a similar question about Zimbabwe. Will you withdraw your words and say 'I refuse to answer'?"

The minister replied: "You make my point for me. There have been no special forces ever involved in Zimbabwe."

Labour MPs shouted triumphantly "There's the answer!" as Mr Kaufman again intervened to ask for further clarification: "What you are saying is that there are special forces involved. If there were not, you would be able to answer the question."

Mr Waldegrave accused his Labour shadow of making a bogus "schoolboy debating point" and said: "We have never, ever commented on the role of the special forces - neither to say yes or no."

He was responding to Opposition demands to repudiate the Khmer Rouge representative at tomorrow's United Nations debate on Cambodia and to increase substantially humanitarian aid to that country.

Opening the Labour-led debate on Cambodia, Mr Kaufman maintained there was a real danger of the Khmer Rouge returning to power. He called for a radical change in Government policy now that Vietnam had withdrawn its troops from the country.

"The murder, torture and suppression of human rights and freedoms associated with the name of Pol Pot and the Khmer Rouge can be compared in scale and horror only with that of Adolf Hitler and the Nazis.

"The British government has played an active part in assisting the armies dominated by the Khmer Rouge and in seeking to remove from power in Cambodia the Hun Sen regime, which is the legal and de facto government of that country.

"The suffering people of Cambodia are being punished for an American defeat in Vietnam. Led by the United States, with the United Kingdom compliantly following, the world community has blacklisted Cambodia."

The UK had adopted a "deplorably shifty attitude towards the Khmer Rouge. Margaret Thatcher said last year that there was a "more reasonable" element within the Khmer Rouge and this would have to play some part in a future government of Cambodia.

Yet pressed in a recent television interview to identify any of these "reasonable" individuals, Lord Brabazon of Tara, a Minister of State at the Foreign Office, had been unable to do so.

Recently in the Commons, the Prime Minister and her deputy, Sir Geoffrey Howe, repeatedly dodged questions over the possible role of the SAS in training troops in Cambodia. The country would conclude those allegations were true unless the Government gave an unequivocal denial.

Mr Waldegrave reasserted the Government's policy to support moves towards self-determination by the Cambodian people. If a protracted civil war was to be avoided, "it would be better to include all the factions in the interim authority rather than exclude the Khmer Rouge and risk their return to guerilla warfare in the jungle".

He insisted: "We wish to see peace and stability restored to Cambodia through a comprehensive political settlement. I do not believe the Cambodian people would willingly choose either the murderous Khmer Rouge or the ex-Khmer Rouge who constitute the present regime in Phnom Penh. What we need are free and fair elections and our diplomacy will be directed towards bringing that about." Britain never had and never would, support the Khmer Rouge.

Sir Russell Johnston, for the Liberal Democrats, praised the journalist John Pilger in alerting the public to the situation in Cambodia.

He added: "If the Government is serious about helping Cambodia, the best way it can move forward is to establish links with the existing Phnom Penh government and support a negotiated peace settlement."

A Labour motion condemning the Government's policy was rejected by 258 votes to 192.

Pailin recaptured, page 15

JUDY JONES Parliamentary Correspondent