Hun Sen said Friday he would seek to extend pre-trial detentions for Ta Mok and Duch, the only two former Khmer Rouge leaders in custody.
The pair are scheduled to be released after their three-year pre-trial terms expire early next year. Legislators already changed the law once to increase the detention period for the two beyond the six months allowed for ordinary prisoners.
Foreign Minister Hor Namhong said Thursday one option was to hold a tribunal for former Khmer Rouge leaders before Ta Mok, a former military commander, and Duch, head of the brutal Tuol Sleng prison, must be let go.
But the trial is likely to be delayed and Hun Sen said he would go to lawmakers asking for another amendment to the detention law.
“This is the only way. We cannot release [Ta Mok and Duch] from jail,” Hun Sen said.
Hun Sen also said he can wait another 10 years for the UN to decide whether or not it will participate in an international Khmer Rouge tribunal, but he again threatened to go ahead without the UN’s presence.
“Tell me, will the UN join, yes or no?” Hun Sen said.
Cambodian officials are waiting for the UN to schedule what is thought to be legal expert Hans Corell’s last visit to Cambodia as the two sides finalize a Memorandum of Understanding on the tribunal.
The government has received a letter from the UN with comments on the Khmer Rouge tribunal law passed earlier this year by parliamentarians, and some fear this may indicate another stall in what has been a troubled process.
Hun Sen on Friday stressed the need for Cambodia to take the lead in what is the most eagerly anticipated legal proceeding since the fall of the ultra-leftist regime.
“If the MOU does not comply with Cambodian law, I will not accept it. I do what I must for Cambodia, the National Assembly, the Senate and the King,” Hun Sen said.
“I cannot satisfy the mind of the foreigner,” he said.
US Ambassador Kent Wiedemann said Friday that his reading of a letter sent by Corell to Cambodian officials suggests the two sides are not far apart on negotiations for a tribunal.
The letter raises questions on technical matters but nothing that would indicate the two sides will not reach a resolution on the MOU dictating how the joint UN-Cambodian tribunal will operate, Wiedemann said.
“The letter basically said we would like you to consider these questions,” he said. “In my view the distance between the two sides is not all that large.”
A tribunal of some kind had been considered likely by the end of the year, but delays in the negotiations and the Sept 11 attack on the US scuttled talk of a trial taking place this year.
The UN legal experts who are negotiating with the Cambodian government on the tribunal are the same people who will have to write a framework for governing Afghanistan, if the UN decides to move into the war-torn country.
Despite the delays, Wiedemann said he thought a trial was still likely as international calls for a trial of the top leaders of the former Khmer Rouge government continue.
“I think everybody wants to see it set up soon.”