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Out of the Jungle

Usually, only reports of guerrilla warfare and gem smuggling rumble out of Cambodia's northwest jungles. But in recent days, the message from that chaotic quarter has been different: The infamous Khmer Rouge is fragmenting, and a large dissident faction is appealing to the country's three-year-old coalition government for peace and reconciliation.

How do you reconcile with people who may be responsible for the slaughter of more than a million of your countrymen? That question hangs in the air as Cambodian civilian and military leaders meet with the dissident Khmer Rouge fighters.

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Chief among those who claim to be breaking with Khmer Rouge "hard-liners" is Ieng Sary, brother-in-law and chief lieutenant to the often mysterious (and now reportedly deceased) Pol Pot, who led the organization for years and orchestrated the 1975-79 mass killings. Mr. Ieng Sary is presumed to have had a hand in the atrocities, too.

Before he can be welcomed back into Cambodian society and given a role in the country's political life, as his fellow guerrillas demand, his past will have to be squarely faced. At the least, Ieng Sary's involvement in Cambodia's central tragedy will have to be understood by the public in this newly democratizing land.

Things are not quite as simple as Hun Sen, Cambodia's co-prime minister and a former Khmer Rouge himself, would have it: "The past is the past." Unless past injustice is honestly addressed, it tends to warp a country's future.

Even so, this recent turn of events could open a new door to stability for a nation that has had more than its share of turbulence. The breakaway Khmer Rouge, who represent half or more of Pol Pot's old army, should be given every opportunity to move toward peaceful integration into the new polity.

Like other Cambodians, they'll have to learn respect for democratic processes. And the murderous blend of radical Marxism and rabid nationalism that caused Cambodia's holocaust must be left far behind in the jungle.

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