Anlong Veng Military Officials Warn KR Tribunal to Stay Away

anlong veng town, Oddar Mean­chey province – Military and district officials in this former rebel stronghold warned last week that a violent conflict could erupt if the scope of the proposed Khmer Rouge tribunal dipped into the movement’s rank-and-file.

“If the government handles the case without thoughtfulness and picks the wrong people, Cam­bodia will surely plunge into a new civil war,” cautioned Yim Pim, the commander of RCAF division 23, which is based here and made up exclusively of former Khmer Rouge fighters.

Yim Phanna, who became a deputy commander for RCAF’s Military Region 4 after helping to lead mass defections in 1998 that crippled the movement, added only the senior leaders of the Khmer Rouge such as Ta Mok, Khieu Samphan and Nuon Chea should be held accountable for the atrocities of 1975 to 1979.

Yim Pim, Yim Phanna and others here said they expect the government to make sure that whatever form a future Khmer Rouge tribunal may take, they are not vulnerable to prosecution.

Nonetheless, in interviews last week in this muddy and isolated area, they remained wary that a war crimes trial would lead to the prosecution of themselves or their associates, many of whom were low- and mid-ranking officials who took orders from superiors such as Ta Mok and Pol Pot.

“The situation now is totally fragile,” Yim Pim said.

They expressed concern other former Khmer Rouge officials have been arrested or charged with crimes allegedly committed during years as guerrillas.

In June, Nuon Paet became the first Khmer Rouge military commander convicted in a local court. He received life for his involvement in the abduction and murder of three Western tourists in Kampot province in 1994. Addi­tionally, charges related to the same case have been filed against Sam Bith and Chhouk Rin, also former rebel commanders.

“We are very worried about the charges now put against the lower-ranking soldiers like Sam Bith and Chhouk Rin,” Yim Pim said. “…In the future the charges will probably spread to people of lower rank like me and others.”

Anlong Veng was one of the Khmer Rouge’s anchor bases for years until defections in March 1998 put the remote town in government control. The area’s authoritarian leader, Ta Mok, refused to give himself up and fled to the Thai border, where he held out until he was captured in March. Ta Mok is detained in Phnom Penh, awaiting trial. The UN and government have not finalized terms and conditions for any tribunal.

When the government began to woo the guerrillas here, one pledge made was that defectors would be immune from future prosecution related to their activity in the Khmer Rouge movement, Anlong Veng District Chief Yim San asserted.

Government officials have denied immunity was offered, but privately some said deals offered Khmer Rouge members “assurances of their well-being,” which is open to interpretation.

At least two former Khmer Rouge military commanders based here have been taken to Phnom Penh for questioning by Military Court officials. When Yim Pim and Yim Phanna went in June, Anlong Veng residents did not know why they were summoned and were concerned the two leaders would be detained, officials said. They later returned safely.

“If the government prosecutes these two people [Yim Pim and Yim Phanna], it will mean that the defectors are living without assurances and that the government is not fulfilling its promises,” Yim San said.

Ngin Sam An, the investigative judge, said Tuesday that “at least 10 witnesses” have been questioned about Ta Mok, including several from Anlong Veng, but that they are not suspects.

District Chief Yim San notes many people in Anlong Veng still do not trust the government. He recalled last week what Ta Mok told villagers shortly before government troops overtook the area in 1998: “If you surrender to the government, [Prime Minister] Hun Sen will kill you.”

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