Global Policy Forum

Cambodia Will Set Up Court


By Chris Fontaine

Associated Press
April 18, 2000

Phnom Penh - Prime Minister Hun Sen said Monday an agreement may finally be at hand - on the 25th anninversary of the Khmer Rouge takeover of Cambodia - to set up a court to prosecute the movement's former leaders whose reign of terror killed 1.7 million people.

Hun Sen said he backed a U.S.-suggested compromise that appears to resolve the sensitive issue of how to conduct indictments. "I think that this formula sent to me can be the final formula," Hun Sen said upon his return from a summit in Cuba, where he met with U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan.

The United Nations and Cambodia have been negotiating the formation of a tribunal for more than a year, but talks have foundered over which side would control indictments and rulings. U.N. officials fear Cambodia's weak and politicized judiciary might refuse to pass judgment on Khmer Rouge leaders who negotiated defection deals with Hun Sen as the movement unraveled in the late 1990s.

Under the U.S.-suggested compromise, conflicts between Cambodian and foreign prosecutors over who should be indicted would be examined by a panel of three Cambodian and two foreign judges, Hun Sen said. At least one foreign judge would have to agree if the three Cambodian judges want to block an indictment. Diplomats say the formula, proposed by Sen. John Kerry, D-Mass., appears to address U.N. concerns that a Cambodian prosecutor could effectively veto any indictment.

At U.N. headquarters in New York, spokesman Fred Eckhard said Annan has not seen the details of the proposal but said it was a move in the right direction. "He's encouraged that the search for a compromise solution is intense," Eckhard said.

On Monday, the Cambodian capital was mostly quiet on the somber anniversary, with the leader of the parliamentary opposition leading one of the few public commemorations. Speaking amid mass graves at the Choeung Ek "killing field" on the outskirts of Phnom Penh, Sam Rainsy said the country remains haunted by the specter of the late Pol Pot and his ultra-radical Khmer Rouge. "The only way to exorcise the ghost of Pol Pot and to allow Cambodia to start developing on a new and sound basis is to establish an international and independent tribunal to prosecute the main Khmer Rouge leaders and expose the truth," Sam Rainsy said. Cambodia's development remains stunted from the Khmer Rouge's Maoist-inspired revolution, when religion, money and even traditional family life were abolished in a doomed quest for an agrarian utopia.

Hun Sen explained that the government decided not to organize any formal observances of the anniversary because of mixed feelings surrounding the date. "It is the day that stopped the invasion of foreigners," Hun Sen said. "It is a day of both happiness and sadness. But the happiness is less than the sadness because from this day we lost everything and fell into a genocidal regime."

By "foreigners," Hun Sen was apparently referring to the United States, which had backed the right-wing Phnom Penh regime that the Khmer Rouge drove from power. Hun Sen was then serving as an officer in the guerrilla force, but later defected, fleeing to neighboring Vietnam. The Khmer Rouge were ousted by a Vietnamese invasion after nearly four years in power, but continued to wage war against successive Phnom Penh governments until the late 1990s.

Pol Pot died of an apparent heart attack in 1998 as the Khmer Rouge movement finally crumbled, but about a dozen of his top henchmen remain free in Cambodia, beneficiaries of defection deals negotiated by Hun Sen's government to end their insurgency. Like Hun Sen, several other influential members of the current government served with the Khmer Rouge but defected early on. They returned in 1979 as leaders of a communist regime propped up by Vietnam, with free elections being held under U.N. auspices only in 1993.

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