Mixed Reaction to Tribunal From Former Khmer Rouge Followers

samlot district, Battambang – As co-investigating judges from the Extraordinary Chambers in the Courts of Cambodia visit Pailin this week, the scale of the challenge facing them in explaining the court’s motives and goals in areas still sympathetic to the Khmer Rouge is be­coming more apparent.

Interviews with former Khmer Rouge leaders, soldiers and sympathizers in their former strongholds of Pailin and Battambang last weekend revealed a surprising degree of support for the arrests of five former leaders of the movement, along with calls for more prosecutions—including people outside Cambodia.

A fundamental distrust of the ECCC also appears to exist, combined with incomprehension of the court’s workings, structure and mandate, as well as fears that widespread arrests of the Khmer Rouge rank-and-file might be imminent.

Former Khmer Rouge commander Meas Muth, 69, said at his home in Samlot district that he does not believe the ECCC can provide justice for atrocities committed as long as people involved with such events from other countries are not also brought to trial.

“If the ECCC can find which skulls belong to people that were killed by the Khmer Rouge, the US’ B52s and Vietnamese [soldiers] then the court will be just,” Meas Muth said Thursday.

A son-in-law of the late KR military commander Ta Mok, Meas Muth served in the Democratic Kampuchea regime as a military division chairman and rose through the ranks of the notoriously brutal Southwest Zone to be­come secretary of Central Commit­tee Division 164.

Meas Muth said that he was not interested in the ECCC and that former Khmer Rouge leaders Nuon Chea, Khieu Samphan, Ieng Sary, Ieng Thirith and Kaing Guek Eav, alias Duch, were not arrested be­cause of their guilt but because they are no longer powerful. “They are the losers,” he said.

“I am not interested in the court. I am concerned whether I have enough rice to eat,” he added.

Several other former rank-and-file Khmer Rouge soldiers, however, were less caustic in their views.

Man Hoy, a resident of Pailin and former Khmer Rouge fighter, said he supported the arrest of the five senior leaders but also wanted the prosecution’s net to widen beyond Cambodia’s borders.

Leaders in the US, China and Vietnam were also culpable in what happened in Cambodia and should also be prosecuted, said Man Hoy, adding that low-level troops want to clear their names.

“People think that all former Khmer Rouge are bad,” he said. “The prosecution is good because we will know who was right and who was wrong.”

Pailin Information Department Director Kong Doung expressed fears that the ECCC would start prosecuting lower-ranking former Khmer Rouge soldiers, which he said could spark unrest in the region.

“To prosecute all the followers would cause hatred and fear,” said Kong Doung, who also dismissed the importance of the court’s impact on Cambodia’s future.

“The ECCC is like a cake that people are enjoying eating right now, but after it is gone, there is nothing,” he said.

The idea that the ECCC could prosecute foreign leaders for what happened in Cambodia was not realistic, tribunal spokesman Reach Sambath said Monday.

“The role and mandate of the court is to prosecute the most senior and most responsible leaders here, and has no mandate to prosecute foreigners,” he said.

The goal of the ECCC is not to stoke unrest but to see that the integration of former Khmer Rouge areas into modern Cambo­dia continues, Reach Sambath said. “This court can only be a 100 percent success when there is full cooperation by victims and all people re­gardless of their background,” he added.

Executive Director of the Docu­mentation Center of Cambodia Youk Chhang said the comments by former Khmer Rouge followers reflected the division among Cam­bodians with regard to the type of justice the ECCC should provide.

“The ECCC will provide accountability, not a historical explanation for what happened,” Youk Chhang said, adding that it was not unusual that former Khmer Rouge soldiers supported the tribunal. “There are many who feel that higher-up people were responsible for indoctrinating them…and that the ECCC would clear their name,” he said.

For the moment, Youk Chhang said the court should focus on prosecuting the five already arrested as their successful prosecution would provide a solid foundation to look at crimes committed by other members of the movement.

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