sydney – Cambodians here in Australia say they will not feel free until the leaders of the Khmer Rouge are brought to justice, but some wonder if a trial is worth the risk of a new conflict.
Sareth Seng, a staff member at the Burnside community center, said that a trial should be conducted only if it can be assured it will be fair and the benefits will outweigh the possible negative consequences.
“I’m afraid that if a trial isn’t fair, it won’t make us feel relief, but instead will inspire anger, violence, and Cambodians will not feel free,” he said.
While it is true that a trial cannot wait much longer because of the age and frailty of some of the Khmer Rouge leaders and while justice would represent closure, “when they die is also a finish.”
Sareth Seng said he thinks the UN wants a trial to warn dictators and military regimes in the region of the consequences of human rights abuses, but noted that the sentiment in and near the former Khmer Rouge areas of Pailin and Anlong Veng has to be balanced with the international community’s desires. He suggested a referendum be held to see what the majority of Cambodians want.
He said he is angry enough about what happened to want all Khmer Rouge leaders to be convicted, but understands that Cambodians at home may be fed up with war.
Mao Lip, a former Ministry of Foreign Affairs official who lost two children and five siblings during the Khmer Rouge regime, said when he was in Cambodia recently he saw former Khmer Rouge deputy Ieng Sary at a restaurant in Phnom Penh. “I was upset and angry, but then I calmed down.”
He said he cannot feel free when he is reminded of the Khmer Rouge, but said it is up to the government and the UN now to reach a compromise on the trial.
Vong Chan, who lost his father and two siblings during the Khmer Rouge regime, said he is 100 percent in support of a UN-controlled trial.
“No UN control, no justice,” he said, adding that a Cambodian court would be controlled by Prime Minister Hun Sen. He said the trial is needed to find justice, relieve anger, make people feel free, warn dictators and promote democracy and development.
He also said he would not be satisfied if only former Khmer Rouge military chief Ta Mok is convicted, and supports the UN condition that Khmer Rouge leaders not be protected by previous amnesty agreements.
He said he also wants Khmer Rouge leaders to clarify why the killings were allowed to happen, and also wants to hear from King Norodom Sihanouk why he went into the jungle in the early 1970s to meet with the Khmer Rouge.
Vong Chan said that the fear a trial will spark fresh violence should not be used as an excuse for not conducting a trial.
The Khmer Rouge is not a problem now, he said, because it has “no supporters.”