Door Open for UN at Khmer Rouge Trial


By David Brunnstrom

February 11, 2002

Cambodia says it will ask individual nations to help try Khmer Rouge leaders for genocide and crimes against humanity if the United Nations refused to rejoin the process, but diplomats said it was premature to rule out U.N. involvement.

Prime Minister Hun Sen said on Monday the government would welcome new talks with the United Nations on setting up a special court and said there was time for it to reverse its decision last week to withdraw from the process. But he added: "We cannot leave the issue halfway. The law must be implemented. We will wait for the United Nations to come back, but we cannot wait for ever. "If there is no United Nations participation, we will invite various countries that want to join the tribunal and will send their prosecutors and judges. The law allows us to do this."

Hans Corell, the chief U.N legal counsel, said on Friday the world body was ending talks with Cambodia on setting up a special court after concluding it could not guarantee its impartiality.


The U.N. pullout came just ahead of Tuesday's U.N. war crimes tribunal in the Hague to try former Yugoslav leader Slobodan Milosevic for genocide and crimes against humanity during the violent break-up of Yugoslavia in the 1990s.

Foreign diplomats and Cambodians have said they were shocked and dismayed by the U.N. announcement.

Some 1.7 million people died of execution, starvation, overwork or disease during the catastrophic Khmer Rouge revolution between 1975 and 1979, but none of its leaders has been punished.

On Monday, several foreign ambassadors welcomed Hun Sen's willingness to continue talks with the United Nations and said it was premature to rule the world body out of the process.

Commenting on the prospect for U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan to reverse the U.N. decision, U.S. ambassador Kent Wiedemann told Reuters: "Anything is possible in international diplomacy."

He said it was premature to plan a tribunal without U.N. involvement. "This is something that might be addressed down the road, but it's absolutely premature to comment. The United States is focused on getting the Cambodians and United Nations back together. We believe they are truly on the brink of an agreement."

Envoys from Japan, Britain and Australia made similar comments and France has said it hopes the U.N. will reconsider. Government spokesman Khieu Kanharith said on Saturday that without U.N. involvement, Cambodia had two options -- to hold a trial alone or with help from individual countries, but it wanted a trial held before general elections in 2003.

Foreign governments, rights groups and ordinary people say international involvement is crucial to the global credibility. Independent analysts doubt the U.N. can be persuaded back and fear that without its participation, Cambodia would leave untouched former members of the Khmer Rouge holding positions of power in the government.

Hun Sen said that if the United Nations did not return, it would be another mistake by a body which had once recognised the Khmer Rouge as the legitimate government of Cambodia.


Hun Sen is one of several government ministers with a Khmer Rouge background and despite his comments on Monday has always appeared reluctant to see U.N. participation in a trial. He has referred to the U.N. in the past as "germs".

Hun Sen was a junior military commander before defecting to Vietnam, whose troops overthrew the radical Maoists in 1979. He has not been implicated in Khmer Rouge crimes. A key sticking point in the talks with the United Nations was who should go on trial and the government's desire to restrict prosecution to about 10 selected Khmer Rouge figures.

A particular issue was the fate of former Khmer Rouge foreign minister Ieng Sary, who was pardoned by constitutional monarch King Norodom Sihanouk after his defection in 1996.

Only two high-profile Khmer Rouge figures are in detention -- Kaing Kek Ieu, better know as "Duch", who ran the group's main torture centre, and one-legged military commander Ta Mok. They have been detained for nearly three years and Hun Sen said on Monday the government planned draft legislation to extend their remand periods -- which expire in March and May -- until a tribunal can be set up.

The surviving top Khmer Rouge leaders, including former head of state Khieu Samphan and ideological guru Nuon Chea, live in quiet retirement in an enclave on Cambodia's western border with Thailand. Former Khmer Rouge leader Pol Pot died in 1998.

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