British SAS trained Khmer Rouge in land mines - an extract from a book of reporting

The following is an extract from a book of reporting Tell me no lies investigative journalism and its triumphs edited by John Pilger, (Vintage, 2005). It is from the Chapter Year Zero 1979, by John Pilger, pp 144 - 145.

A similar passage with an identical quotation is in an earlier book, page 191, Distant Voices, by John Pilger, Vintage, first published in 1992.

For most of 1990 David Munro and I - together with Simon O'Dwyer-Russell of the Sunday Telegraph - pursued an investigation into Western support for the Khmer Rouge in Europe, the US and South-East Asia. Our sources were in the Ministry of Defence and in ‘R’ (reserve) Squadron of the SAS. One of them, himself a former SAS trainer in Thailand, told us,

We first went to Thailand in 1984. Since then we have worked in teams of four and eight and have been attached to the Thai Army. The Yanks [Special Forces] and us worked together; we're close like brothers. We trained the Khmer Rouge in a lot of technical stuff - a lot about mines. We used mines that came originally from Royal Ordnance in Britain, which we got by way of Egypt, with markings changed. They are the latest; one type goes up in a rocket and comes down on a parachute and hangs in the bushes until someone brushes it. Then it can blow their head off, or an arm. We trained them in Mark 5 rocket launchers and all sorts of weapons. We even gave them psychological training. At first they wanted to go into the villages and just chop people up. We told them how to go easy ... Some of us went up to 100 miles inside Cambodia with them on missions. There are about 250 of us on the border at any one time and a lot of those would change sides given half the chance. That's how pissed off we are. We hate being mixed up with Pol Pot. I tell you: we are soldiers, not child murderers. It costs half a million quid to train one of us. Putting us in the service of a lunatic like Pol Pot makes no sense. There is no insurgency in Cambodia that threatens us.

O'Dwyer-Russell interviewed two SAS trainers whose military background he knew well. They described in detail how they had taught Khmer Rouge troops mine-laying and mines technology. One man told how he had laid anti-personnel and off-route mines, ‘which were detonated automatically by the sound of people moving along the track’. The mines, although not necessarily British-made, were supplied by Britain and fired ‘thousands of pellets into the air and once they bed themselves in people's bodies are incredibly difficult to find...’

The British Government's response was swift. In the Independent of 12 October, a front-page headline said, ‘Hurd rejects Pilger's Cambodia allegations’. Inside, half a page was devoted to a long riposte under Hurd's name, an unusual step for a foreign secretary. ‘The brutality and murder of the Pol Pot regime shocked the world,’ wrote Hurd. ‘The British Government took the lead in denouncing it at the UN.’ This, of course, was false. The government to which Hurd belonged had taken the lead in supporting Pol Pot's claim on Cambodia's seat at the United Nations.


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