Calls for trial as Khmer Rouge surrender

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Calls for trial as Khmer Rouge surrender

By Allen Myers

In late December, two of the three remaining top leaders of the Khmer Rouge announced their defection to the Cambodian government and were welcomed in the capital, Phnom Penh. The surrender of Khieu Samphan and Nuon Chea leaves only the notorious Ta Mok and a handful of troops as a remnant of the guerilla movement that has fought to regain power since its overthrow in 1979.

Reports in the Phnom Penh press indicate that Ta Mok is expected to surrender in the near future.

Ieng Sary, another prominent Khmer Rouge leader, defected to the government in August 1996 and was left in control of the area around Pailin, near the Thai border in western Cambodia.

Pol Pot, the top KR leader, was arrested and "tried" in June 1997 by the other KR leaders; he died under house arrest last March.

There have been calls, both internationally and from inside Cambodia, for the surviving KR leaders to be put on trial for genocide and crimes against humanity during their 1975-79 rule, during which an estimated 2 million Cambodians died.

While many of these calls are the product of abhorrence of the KR crimes, others represent an attempt to score propaganda points against the current Cambodian government, headed by Prime Minister Hun Sen, by accusing it of being too "soft" on the KR leaders.

For example, opposition MP Sam Rainsy loudly criticised the fact that Khieu Samphan and Nuon Chea were not immediately arrested. But in 1994, when the Cambodian National Assembly outlawed the KR, Sam Rainsy led the opposition to the move.

Western governments, particularly that of the United States, have even less reason to criticise, since they were responsible for the rebuilding and maintenance of the KR forces after 1979. Refugee camps just inside the Thai border were converted into military bases for forces which, with Chinese and western weapons, at times ranged over extensive territory in western and northern Cambodia.

Conservative, pro-western Cambodians, including Funcinpec leader Prince Norodom Ranariddh, formed a military alliance with the KR, although the political cover they provided was more important than their military contribution.

Around Pailin, the KR conducted extensive gem-mining and logging, exporting through Thailand with the connivance of corrupt Thai generals.

A statement issued by Hun Sen on January 1 calls attention to the fact that "some individuals have forgotten the past".

It recalls that the Cambodian government in 1979 tried (in absentia) both Pol Pot and Ieng Sary, condemning them to death. This trial has been studiously ignored by western governments for 20 years.

In fact, as Hun Sen noted, the KR leaders "were given the right to the [Cambodian] seat at the United Nations".

Internationally sponsored negotiations during 1990-91 eventually produced an agreement for an end to fighting and nationwide elections under United Nations supervision. Although the KR violated the agreement, the elections were held, resulting in a coalition government between Funcinpec and the Cambodian People's Party led by Hun Sen.

Hun Sen's statement went on to point out that in those negotiations he was roundly condemned by western governments for wanting merely to include the word "genocide" in the agreement.

Under the western-imposed agreement, Khieu Samphan and Son Sen (killed by Pol Pot during the 1997 KR infighting) were made members of the Supreme National Council of Cambodia. If the KR had not broken the agreement and boycotted the 1993 election, Hun Sen's statement points out, they "could have been a legal political party in Cambodia" today.

Hun Sen recounted that after Ieng Sary's defection and the 1997 fracturing of the KR, the Cambodian government urged "our neighbouring friends" (Thailand) to hand over the KR leaders.

These neighbours "always denied any presence of the Khmer Rouge leaders on their territory", but nevertheless "said they would hand them over if we accepted to reintegrate them into the fold of the nation". Last June, the government agreed to accept several lower ranking KR leaders, and "It took only 48 hours for them to be delivered to Pailin".

Similarly, Khieu Samphan and Nuon Chea, "together with their families, were in Pailin after 72 hours", and Pailin "has no international airport". "I do not have to mention where Ta Mok is now", Hun Sen added.

Hun Sen said that he regards the trial of the Khmer Rouge as a fait accompli, in the sense that the verdict of the 1979 trial remains valid. A trial of others accused of KR crimes should be proceeded with, but it was not his proper role to act as accuser for such a trial.

His letter welcoming Khieu Samphan and Nuon Chea "into the fold of the nation" had made no promises of immunity from prosecution.

However, there is as yet no court verdict against them. They had not been captured in battle, but had voluntarily given up the fight, and it would be cowardly and counterproductive to jail them in those circumstances: "The real victory of peace does not mean killing all the enemy but to do everything possible so that the enemy stop fighting".

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