Critics have questioned whether the lengthy Khmer Rouge tribunal process can ever bring justice to Cambodia, but recent public denials suggests the tribunal is being taken seriously by the surviving former leaders of the regime.
Former Khmer Rouge deputy military commander Ke Pauk is the latest leader to deny any involvement in the atrocities that claimed the lives of more than 1 million Cambodians.
“I was a very small member. I, one member, was standing in a very small part of the country,” said Ke Pauk, the former secretary of the North/Central Zone of what was then called Democratic Kampuchea.
At the same time, Ke Pauk said he did not think the scope of the Khmer Rouge tribunal would be large enough to be fair.
“How is the trial fair and just, if only counted from the period of 1975 to 1979? Why not 1970 to 1975 and 1979 to 1989? Many Cambodians were killed during this time. If they are not inserted into a trial, it is not fair. How many Cambodian people were killed by American bombs? And many people died…during the period of Vietnamese invasion,” he said.
Ke Pauk, who now runs a business selling tables and chairs in Siem Reap province, denied rumors that he was seeking a visa so he could leave Cambodia and travel to China. He said such accusations make him angry and that he fears the government will believe he wants to flee.
“I have never applied for a visa to China,” he said. “I don’t have a passport. I’ve never thought of leaving Cambodia to live in their country. I never visited China once, and I don’t know the Chinese leaders.
“Even today, if I go anyplace, I have to inform upper officials in the Defense Ministry. They instructed me that if I want to go anyplace, I should inform them. I have followed that.
“I have no money to go to any country. I am very busy with my business, and I have no time.”
A report released in June by the War Crimes Research Office at American University in the US city of Washington, DC, stated there is evidence that Ke Pauk played a role in directing certain requests that inevitably resulted in executions. The report cited confessions written by Khmer Rouge cadre.
In February of 2000, Ke Pauk offered an apology for those killed from overwork, starvation, disease, torture and execution under the Khmer Rouge regime, but attributed the crimes to Pol Pot.
“There was some wrong and some right in those years, but you should understand Pol Pot tried to work and struggle in the forest to free his country,” Ke Pauk said. “He had no reason to kill his own people.
“If we had not been incited, we would have had no dispute. The powerful countries, especially the Americans, incited us to fight each other and then they could sell us their ammunition and supplies.”
Ke Pauk’s statements comes three weeks after a denials and apologies from former Khmer Rouge president Khieu Samphan, who broke years of silence with an open letter to the Cambodian people. US Ambassador Kent Wiedemann is among those who suggest the breaking of ranks within the once tight-knit “Angkar” proves the Khmer Rouge tribunal is a credible threat to the aging cadres.
Last month Prime Minister Hun Sen told former Khmer Rouge cadre they should cooperate with the tribunal, and that the government was prepared to seize those who were not willing to do so.
“That may have sent a signal to these guys,” Wiedemann said.
Some former low-level Khmer Rouge soldiers have said a tribunal might be a chance for their former leaders to clear their names.
“I support and want [former foreign minister] Ieng Sary to stand in front of the court and tell people why people were killed, and who did it. I want him to clear the suspicion and doubt. His saying so can stop the accusations that he is a killer. He is a clean leader and did not order the killing of people during those years,” said former Khmer Rouge commander and current Brigade 22 commander Chhun Nhib.
Others say they do not mind seeing their leaders convicted because they feel betrayed by the movement for which they fought.
“Shooting was like a medicine for me before, but today, I am too tired to do it again. During the struggle, I expected I would get what I want, but what I have now is no cow and no rice field. I have only a thatch house and my wife is making business by cutting thatch for sale,” said Yim Seb, another former Khmer Rouge soldier and now deputy commander of Brigade 22 .