banteay meanchey province – For many former Khmer Rouge cadres in the border districts of Malai and Pailin municipality, the recent trial and execution of Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein has come to serve as a miserable yardstick of international justice. And thanks to the televised images of a harangued Saddam seconds from death on the gallows, a troubling new image hovers over the work of the Extraordinary Chambers in the Courts of Cambodia.
The majority of those interviewed in these former rebel strongholds sharply questioned the quality of justice the Khmer Rouge tribunal is likely to deliver and many said they would rather the ECCC not proceed.
The first lesson of the Iraq Special Tribunal, several former Khmer Rouge members said, is that a trial for crimes committed in the past does not guarantee peace and reconciliation today.
The execution of Saddam only added fuel to the fire of war in Iraq, said Keut Sothea, deputy governor of Pailin municipality.
Keeping in mind the religious and political factionalism that has sundered Iraq, Keut Sothea said the ECCC should proceed with caution. “There should not be discrimination against the Khmer Rouge,” he added.
When asked why he thought the Khmer Rouge tribunal has faced so many delays and obstacles, Long Narin, who worked at Democratic Kampuchea’s Foreign Ministry under minister Ieng Sary, said that Prime Minister Hun Sen knows what’s best for the country.
“Hun Sen thinks about what is good and not good for this trial,” Long Narin said. “For example, if you have a trial and people are not happy and they protest, what will they do to them? Use the police. Then there will be a problem.”
Though technically a domestic court, the Iraqi court is widely perceived by former Khmer Rouge to have been stage-managed by the US, which has thus deepened skepticism of Cambodia’s tribunal.
Jeff Daigle, US Embassy spokesman, said speculation about US control of the Iraqi court was unfounded. “The trial was completely in the hands of the Iraqis,” he said. “It was an Iraqi process.”
But former cadres such as Phe Tha, 47, are not convinced by such denials and also unconvinced that the tribunal in Phnom Penh won’t be a similar exercise in victor’s justice.
“Right now, the weak people are always wrong. The strong people are always right,” he said.
Despite their unease and mistrust of the ECCC, the only fight left in the former rebel zones these days is the struggle to make a living.
“The Khmer Rouge had many wars,” said Sear Mot, 55, a former cadre who owns a carpenter’s shop in Pailin. “It’s enough.”
Beneath the peace that has come to the former rebel areas on the border, the image of a beautiful, lost revolution, presided over by men who made mistakes but loved their people, still burns quietly.
The Khmer Rouge, said Long Narin, created more than a killing machine; they launched a strike against US imperialism.
“It was also an idea, a protest,” he said of the Khmer Rouge revolution and the Democratic Kampuchea regime it fostered. “People forget that,” he added. “Now it is just about killing.”