Although government cabinet officials maintain the decision was theirs to table a Khmer Rouge draft law last week, they reportedly held 11th-hour talks with diplomats who encouraged them to negotiate further with the UN.
“In our continuing, explicit role of trying to facilitate agreement between the UN secretary-general and the government here, we learned from the UN that they would’ve liked more time to study the draft before it passed by the [cabinet],” said US Ambassador Kent Wiedemann, who spoke to Cabinet Minister Sok An on Thursday—just one day before the government’s surprise move to stall the draft.
Earlier in the week, Prime Minister Hun Sen had maintained that the Council of Ministers would pass the draft Friday—regardless of whether the UN accepted Cambodia’s plan for trying those responsible for more than 1 million deaths from 1975-79.
Now that the draft law is tabled until the cabinet’s next scheduled meeting on Jan 6, the UN can for the first time in months actively participate in talks.
It’s a role the international community has long supported, Wiedemann said, to secure a “fair and credible” trial.
Council of Ministers Secretary of State Sum Manit, however, would not directly credit the US or any other country with the decision to allow more talks.
“There is no pressure from the Americans or from others. What we ask of them, like the French, is their advice,” Sum Manit said Monday. “We discussed it in the [cabinet on Friday]. We made some modifications, some amendments, took some recommendations from some ministers. We will draft it again, and we will send to the UN.”
The most recent draft had been forwarded to the UN only last Monday, giving the UN little time to respond before last Friday’s cabinet meeting.
Sum Manit argued that instead of shunning the UN by giving them so little time to comment on the draft, the government merely wants to close the final chapter on the Khmer Rouge era in Cambodia.
“If the UN helps us, we will be very grateful. Otherwise we will go ahead, because we cannot wait any longer,” he said.
Answering criticism that individual nations might have taken up diplomatic slack left by the UN, the Secretary-General Kofi Annan’s special representative to Cambodia maintained that the UN in no way failed in its diplomatic endeavors.
“In the last two months, I have attended at least five very important meetings on the Khmer Rouge trial,” Lakhan Mehrotra said on Monday. “Member states are the hands and limbs of the UN. Any state that facilitates our task is welcome.”