The Apologist in Suburbia

Pol Pot's Comrade Enjoys the Quiet Life in Westchester

Regardless of his role in any trial, many Cambodian Americans feel Thiounn should not be allowed to reside in the U.S.

"I live in Yonkers, and he lives in Mount Vernon," said Vandy Tek, a 35-year-old killing fields survivor who lost his father to the Khmer Rouge. "That's only half an hour away."

Thiounn hasn't had diplomatic status since 1993, when the Khmer Rouge lost its UN seat. Foreign diplomats whose terms expire are typically given 30 days to leave the country. In September 1995, after learning of Thiounn's continuing presence here, the State Department declared it would try to find a way to expel him from the country.

But spokespeople for the State Department and the INS refused comment on the current status of Thiounn's residence in the U.S., citing privacy laws.

Craig Etcheson has said that because the U.S. supported the Khmer Rouge when it warred with Vietnam in the early 1980s, the State Department actually hindered the effort to prosecute Khmer Rouge leaders. "They actively blocked it between 1979 and 1986, because, then, the U.S. was the Khmer Rouge's most important military ally," he said.

And Thiounn is only one of perhaps several thousand former Khmer Rouge living in the U.S. By many accounts, Khmer Rouge cadres were among the first Cambodians to emigrate here, while their victims remained in refugee camps well into the mid 1980s.

But apparently not everyone is unhappy about Thiounn's presence here. After a visit to the Thiounn residence, the Voice asked some of the reclusive man's neighbors if they were aware of his past. One man, who was watering his lawn, remarked: "We all have skeletons in our past--I know I've got some."

To which Etcheson, who has overseen the exhumation of mass graves in Cambodia, replied: "Do you have 1 million skeletons in your past?"

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