An attempt to try former Khmer Rouge deputy premier Ieng Sary in the coming tribunal of the regime’s leaders would only bring renewed civil war, Prime Minister Hun Sen told a Bangkok newspaper.
In separate remarks Wednesday, Hun Sen reassured low- to mid-level Khmer Rouge officials that they would not be targeted by the international tribunal.
“Do not worry at all,” he said at a road project opening in Siem Reap. “The trial targets a few top leaders because we must find justice for the Cambodian people killed in Pol Pot’s genocidal regime and condemn those who committed the most serious crimes and held the highest responsibility.”
But those top leaders should not include Ieng Sary, Hun Sen told the Bangkok Post while accompanying his wife, Bun Rany, to Thailand for medical treatment.
Ieng Sary, who has been linked to Khmer Rouge documents that detail the killing of Cambodian citizens, should not face prosecution since it was his defection to the government in 1996 that led to the toppling of the Khmer Rouge and the beginnings of national reconciliation, Hun Sen said.
Hun Sen said Ieng Sary’s supporters would react violently if he was brought before the tribunal now being formed. “There will be war again in Cambodia,” Hun Sen said. “This is a warning.”
Chea Vannath, president of the Center for Social Development, said there was little chance of civil war if Ieng Sary were tried.
“It won’t be a conventional war in real terms, but there might be some instability in the remote areas,” she said.
Protests of Ieng Sary’s trial would be even less likely if the prime minister supported it, Chea Vannath said.
Hun Sen’s statements came a week after the National Assembly passed draft legislation to establish a UN-assisted tribunal to try the top leaders of the regime who are now held most responsible for the more than 1 million Cambodians who died between 1975 to 1979.
Ieng Sary, who has characterized the tribunal as a “poisonous trick,” said he dealt only with foreign affairs when he served with the Khmer Rouge and had no knowledge of the killings.
However, he was named in a report released earlier this year by the Documentation Center of Cambodia which claims details of executions and torture were sent to him under the code name “Comrade Van.”
Ieng Sary went to the government in 1996, leading a mass defection of rebel soldiers. The move helped end the civil war that had raged since the 1979 defeat of the Khmer Rouge by Vietnamese forces.
He was granted amnesty by King Norodom Sihanouk and cleared of a death sentence that was handed down by a Vietnamese court in 1979.
Former Khmer Rouge soldiers told The Cambodia Daily in November that they want to see the top leaders of the regime tried, because many felt they were mistreated by the movement while their leaders got rich.
Hun Sen said he would travel to Anlong Veng to personally reassure lower-ranking former Khmer Rouge members that they will not be hunted down by the tribunal. “If everyone is on trial that will become meaningless,” he said. “Then Khmer will be divided again.” (Additional reporting by Ham Samnang)