Calling King Norodom Sihanouk a champion of the UN and human rights in Cambodia, UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan said he remains open to discuss how to try those responsible for masterminding more than 1 million deaths from 1975-79.
“I am convinced that crimes of such a magnitude demand a judicial process that answers to the highest norms of integrity and law,” he wrote to the King in a letter wishing him a happy birthday.
“On this premise, I continue to offer my assistance to yourself and the Royal Government for the establishment of this project.”
Although the monarch has no formal role in negotiations over how to try one-time leaders of the Khmer Rouge regime, the King in recent weeks has been more vocal about the proceedings.
In his October monthly bulletin, King Sihanouk argued nations do not forgo independence when the international community intervenes in their affairs.
Annan continually has pushed for an international tribunal but the government has been less than receptive, citing the nation’s sovereignty as its utmost concern. Before holding somewhat successful talks with US diplomats that pushed the government and the UN closer together, Prime Minister Hun Sen even had said he would be willing to hold a trial without the UN.
UN officials said on Tuesday no meeting is scheduled between Annan and the King, but analysts noted the letter is nonetheless significant. “The King has a prominent role to play,” said Chea Vannath, president of the Center for Social Development.
She noted that the Constitution allows the King a number of vague provisions in government, like ensuring the country’s “sovereignty” and “integrity.”
“Since the rules are so flexible, he can use this to his advantage. Instead of saying nothing, he says a little of something. He has a lot of experience with saying the right thing at the right time,” Chea Vannath said.
Yet Kong Som Ol, the Minister of the Royal Palace and a member of the ruling CPP, said the King prefers to stay out of politics.
He said the monarch has discussed the trial during regular meetings with Prime Minister Hun Sen but pushes for nothing beyond continued peace in Cambodia. “The trial is up to the government. The King now is the father. He is neutral,” Kong Som Ol said Tuesday.
While not directly asking the King to get involved in discussions over the trial, Annan complimented the monarch for his past support of the UN.
“You have also been a strong and faithful champion of the UN organization and a knowledgeable consultant for myself and my representatives,” his letter read.
Since Hun Sen and Prince Norodom Ranariddh, then co-premiers, in 1997 requested UN assistance to try the Khmer Rouge, talks went sour over who would control the process. Negotiations halted in March when China threatened to veto a UN Security Council resolution to establish an ad hoc tribunal.
After the US helped pull the two sides closer together last month, officials said the government was preparing its trial proposal and would submit it to the UN before the end of the year.