Analysts Fear Former KR Leaders Could Slip Away Overseas

The constraints of Cambodian law and its relations with other countries have raised concerns among experts and diplomats that former Khmer Rouge leaders targeted for prosecution could flee the country and live their final days as free men elsewhere.

Cambodia has few extradition treaties, and because the trial will be held under domestic law, the UN has no authority to demand member nations return former Khmer Rouge leaders.

In its draft proposal for international participation in a mixed tribunal, the UN stresses its ‘‘success would ultimately depend on the willingness of the Cambodian Government’’ to arrest former Khmer Rouge leaders.

The proposal requires those indicted who are “within the jurisdiction of Cam­bodia” be detained and transferred to the custody of the mixed tribunal before it can be convened and funds released.

However, in at least two places the plan seems to acknowledge the possible limitations to doing so. It notes the mandate for Cam­bodia to arrest suspects applies to those ‘‘situated in its territory.’’

“The UN does not have the force of a security council resolution demanding compliance of member states,’’ said Stephen Heder, a genocide researcher and historian. ‘‘It’s a weakness that results from the UN security council rolling over under pressure from Hun Sen and the Chinese.’’

China and Thailand were singled out by some analysts as possible havens for fleeing former Khmer Rouge leaders. Influential groups in both countries maintained relations with the rebels in different ways for years.

Cambodia and Thailand have hashed out an extradition treaty, which has already been passed by the National Assembly. How­ever, Thailand’s parliament has not yet passed the proposal.

And the wording of the agreement could be read to imply it would only apply to ‘‘ordinary criminals,’’ not those guilty of ‘‘committing crimes against humanity or genocide,’’ said one diplomat familiar with the treaty, who said it possibly could allow Thailand to avoid turning over fugitives if it does not want to.

Said the diplomat: “Even if they don’t have an extradition treaty, Cambodia could ask for cooperation on certain issues. But if the government they are asking considers it sensitive, they won’t cooperate. China opposes a trial, so if Ieng Sary or anyone else went there, they would not cooperate.’’

When asked several times if China would return any former Khmer Rouge leaders who might flee there, Chinese Embassy’s First Secretary Wu Qingsheng declined to respond directly. However, he stressed that China opposes an international tribunal.

‘‘China has no common border with Cambodia and as I told you, China’s stance is the Khmer Rouge problem is an internal affair of Cambodia,’’ he said Monday.

“The United Nations should respect the choice and decisions of the Cambodian government and should make efforts beneficial to national reconciliation in Cambodia,’ he added.’

China, he also said, ‘‘cut its relationship [with the Khmer Rouge] a long time ago, after the establishment of a joint government in 1993….The Khmer Rouge are Cambodian people, not Chinese people.’’

The Thai ambassador could not be reached for comment.

If former Khmer Rouge leaders are unable to find refuge in other countries, arresting them could still prove tricky. In recent months, leaders in Pailin—where at least three of those most likely to face prosecution reside—have warned arrests of some figures could lead to war. Speaking in Pailin on Sunday, former Khmer Rouge deputy premier Ieng Sary warned Cam­bodia’s ‘‘fragile peace could be lost very quickly.’’

Although most analysts dismiss a large-scale war as unlikely, Pailin soldiers have said they have secret caches of guns and artillery cannons.

Former leaders Nuon Chea and Khieu Samphan are believed to be residing in a fortified compound surrounded by land mines, and partially guarded by RCAF tanks under the command of former Khmer Rouge soldiers, residents and soldiers in the area said this year.

Many experts stress defectors in Pailin are a depleted and war-weary force unlikely to revolt—despite the posturing or even in the face of orders from their leaders. But Khmer Rouge leaders equally insist they are serious.

‘‘Do you think it is possible to take [former Khmer Rouge] from here? If the world wants to try, let them if they dare and see what happens,’’ Pailin’s Cabinet Chief Mei Meakk said in March.

Related Stories

Latest News

The Weekly DispatchA new weekly newsletter from The Cambodia Daily delivering news, analysis and opinion to your inbox. Published every Friday at 11:30am. Sign up today.