Indian Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee pledged his support for the continuation of the Khmer Rouge trials Tuesday, saying India would send a judge from India for the trials if the UN maintains its decision to pull out.
The Indian premier, who spoke at a news conference with Prime Minister Hun Sen at the Council of Ministers Tuesday, declined to provide details on the Khmer Rouge trial and in what capacity the Indian judge would serve.
“Unless there is a final ‘no’ from the United Nations, it will be very difficult to proceed in the matter,” Vajpayee said. “But if the United Nations doesn’t help, and Cambodia decides to go further in the matter, India will be ready to assist.”
Prime Minister Hun Sen applauded Vajpayee’s decision and again criticized the UN for “delaying” the Khmer Rouge trial.
“Before, the UN accepted the Khmer Rouge as a member, and we think this gesture is a mistake, and we wonder if the UN will continue with such a mistake or not [by staying out of the Khmer Rouge trials],” Hun Sen said. “I wonder whether [the pullout] is a tactic by a number of people at the secretariat of the UN to set up an obstacle for the trial of the Khmer Rouge.”
Hun Sen said no deadline for the trial has been reached, nor did he say when the Indian government would send the judge or make the final decision to do so, but said he hoped the trial would take place before the men on trial are “too old.”
Vajpayee made his commitment to provide a judge for the Khmer Rouge trial at a signing ceremony between the countries.
At Tuesday’s ceremony, Cambodia and India signed three agreements that would allow India to supply direct flights from India to Cambodia as well as waive diplomatic and official visas for Indian and Cambodian officials. India also agreed to help restore the Ta Prohm temple in Siem Reap.
Vajpayee arrived in Cambodia earlier in the day and was greeted at Pochentong Airport by Hun Sen, as well as various ministers and Western diplomats. Thousands of well-wishers, including Indian residents of Cambodia, students and a 75-member military brigade, also gathered to greet the 75-year-old premier.
Vajpayee’s visit is the first by a top Indian official since Jawaharlal Nehru visited in 1954.
Although the newspaper the Press Trust of India Limited reported that Cambodia requested help from Hindustan Aeronautics Ltd to help restore some of the Cambodian military’s MIG-21 fighter jets, co-Minister of Defense Prince Sisowath Sirirath Tuesday said he did not know of any such request.
The main military assistance India currently provides to Cambodia is the training of 16 RCAF soldiers in India in the fields of telecommunications and artillery, the prince said.
While the three-part agreement signed Tuesday marks a significant step for bilateral relations between the two countries in the tourism sector, an Indian business leader Tuesday said India still doesn’t have as large a presence in Cambodia as China does.
Sandeep Mujumdar, the local representative of the Indian pharmaceutical giant Cipla and a member of the informal Indian business association in Cambodia, speculated that the reason Vajpayee and the Indian delegation came to Cambodia is to increase its presence in the country relative to China’s, both politically and economically—a fact affirmed by Vajpayee‘s commitment to the Khmer Rouge trials.
“China has advantages because it has played a larger part in Cambodia politics and the day-to-day affairs of Cambodia,” he said. “But Cambodia used to be Hindu, so the relationship between Cambodia and India goes back 1,200 years—and we have a healthy relationship with Cambodia instead of a relationship like the one India has with Pakistan.”
(Additional reporting by Pin Sisovann)