Prime Minister Hun Sen on Monday expressed frustration that an agreement on how to try former leaders of the Khmer Rouge has not yet been reached, saying he no longer cares about a trial and will just focus on improving Cambodia’s economy.
“I do not care to use my brain any more to think about the Khmer Rouge because sometimes I write a letter to [UN Secretary-General] Kofi Annan at midnight, so I don’t have time to think about anything else,” Hun Sen said during a visit to Svay Rieng province to watch farmers harvest rice.
Also Monday, National Assembly President Prince Norodom Ranarridh said he supports an international tribunal and the UN’s concerns over a Cambodian-run trial must be taken seriously, The Associated Press reported.
“If one day the government sees a possibility to have an international tribunal, I think both His Majesty [King Norodom Sihanouk] and I have no objections and would fully support it,” the prince said.
Kao Kim Hourn, executive director of the Cambodian Institute for Cooperation and Peace, said perhaps the comments from Hun Sen and the prince were a way for the prime minister to not appear to be backing down to the UN and to let the National Assembly make concessions to the UN.
But the prime minister’s comments probably had more to do with his anger over how long it’s taken to move the trial process forward, Kao Kim Hourn said.
“It’s unfortunate that it’s taken so much time,” he said. “And he [Hun Sen] is right. It’s important that the Khmer Rouge trial should not be the only thing Cambodia focuses on.”
Om Yentieng, a senior adviser to Hun Sen, indicated Monday that Prince Ranariddh is the appropriate person to speak about the trial, since the draft law on a Cambodian-run trial is now at the National Assembly.
“There is no other plan the government has except what has been written in the draft, and now it’s left to the legislature to deal with it,” Om Yentieng said. “Now we [the government] just care about the economy, social welfare, peace, security and even the health of Ta Mok.”
Hun Sen has pushed for Cambodian control over a trial, while the UN says Cambodia’s judicial system is not competent enough to conduct a fair trial.
After a meeting with UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan in February, Hun Sen seemed optimistic about an agreement.
But UN experts have yet to arrive in Cambodia and Hun Sen said while Cambodia waits for the UN, former Khmer Rouge leaders responsible for killing more than 1 million people could die.
“It is up to them [UN] if they want to talk with me or not,” Hun Sen said. “Later Ta Mok dies, Nuon Chea dies, Khieu Samphan dies, they will all die and we will have no one to face the tribunal.”
If you want to play a trick to prolong a trial, please do.”
One diplomat said he understands Hun Sen’s frustration, and doesn’t think the prime minister’s comments mean the door is closed on trial negotiations.
“The trial has taken longer than expected and he does have other big issues to get to,” the diplomat said.
“The UN has taken a long time to come here. It’s been three weeks since [Kofi] Annan said he will send experts and still no one is here.”
(Additional reporting by Ham Samnang)