samlot district, Battambang province – The beer and cola flowed freely as more than 600 revelers gathered Dec 21 to celebrate the housewarming of Meas Muth.
Smoking tobacco wrapped in tree leaves, the 68-year-old went from table to table, jovially reminiscing with old colleagues, and spoke proudly of the large orchard behind his elegant wooden home.
It was not the type of party one might expect from a man considered to be a top candidate for prosecution in the Extraordinary Chambers in the Courts of Cambodia.
Though less well-known than Khmer Rouge leaders like Pol Pot, Brother No 2 Nuon Chea, or his late father-in-law military commander Ta Mok, Meas Muth is singled out in historian Stephen Heder’s 2001 book “Seven Can-didates for Prosecution: Accountability for the Crimes of the Khmer Rouge.”
According to the book, which names him as one of the seven candidates, Meas Muth served in the Democratic Kampuchea regime as a military division chairman. He rose through the ranks of his father-in-law’s notoriously brutal Southwest Zone to become secretary of Central Committee Division 164, which incorporated the Khmer Rouge navy.
Despite the possibility of future prosecution, life is good these days for the aging soldier.
His newly finished house sits adjacent to his 10-hectare orchard of fruit trees—his mangos and coconuts are watered by an irrigation system that draws from a crystalline stream nearby.
“My purpose in making this farm and building this house is to serve as a model for the people and the new generation to follow,” Meas Muth said in an interview.
“I don’t want them to remember me at all. I want them to unite and work together to make the country prosperous,” he said.
Despite his age and questionable military history, Meas Muth said he is still in the Cambodian army, serving now as an RCAF brigadier general and an adviser to a top official at the Ministry of Defense in Phnom Penh.
He said he still drives to Phnom Penh every two weeks to make a report to the ministry. His 20-year-old daughter added that her father also has a villa in the capital that he rents out for $1,000 per month.
The drive to Phnom Penh takes about one day, but that journey recently got easier for Meas Muth, when he received a gift of a $60,000 Toyota Prado Sport Utility Vehicle.
Several former Khmer Rouge soldiers say they also still love and revere their former commander.
Most of the guests on hand for the housewarming ceremony were former Khmer Rouge, some traveling from as far away as Svay Rieng province, turning the event into something of an unofficial reunion of Democratic Kampuchea diehards.
“We are excited and happy to reunite with former comrades at this party,” said 65-year-old Seng Pin, who now lives in Pailin.
Seng Pin, a soldier who joined the Khmer Rouge in 1971, said his former commander was a gentle man that had always given the needy money to start businesses.
Seng Pin was among many former Khmer Rouge present who said they don’t want to see Meas Muth, or any of the regime’s leaders, tried by the ECCC.
“We already have a reconciliation policy made by the government,” he said.
Nop Al, 49, who began serving under Meas Muth in 1972, said he is worried that if his ex-commander is charged, this will open the door for more prosecutions by the ECCC than expected.
Meas Muth denies any culpability for the 1.7 million people the Khmer Rouge left dead in their wake.
“I know I am accused of committing genocide and war crimes,” he said, but added: “What evidence do they have for accusing me?”
“They say they have evidence of graves, bones, skulls and victims, but let them show us who did it.”
Meas Muth said that he would appear before the court if it calls him.
“I am not scared and I am not worried,” he said. “I will speak the truth.”
If convicted, however, it will only prove that the true aim of the court is to imprison patriots, Meas Muth said.
Despite his claim that there is no evidence to convict him, Heder’s book describes meeting minutes of the Khmer Rouge military’s General Staff, which show Meas Muth being present for and endorsing planning sessions for the regime’s purges.
Heder also points to the “confessions” of at least 24 prisoners at the notorious S-21 prison in Phnom Penh who came from Meas Muth’s Division 164, which, Heder wrote, suggests the commander’s knowledge and use of the prison.
Youk Chhang, executive director of the Documentation Center of Cambodia, said it is too early to say whether Meas Muth is a suspect.
He noted that the tribunal could only prosecute “senior leaders of Democratic Kampuchea and those who were most responsible,” but it has not yet defined exactly what that means.
But Meas Muth said he was beyond caring at this point what, if anything, the ECCC has in store for him.
“Some are worried that I will be imprisoned and not given food,” he said. “I tell them it is normal for human beings to be born and to die.”
“I am 68 years old and nothing worries me.”
(Additional reporting by Elizabeth Tomei and John Maloy)