Cambodians Urged To Bury KR Horror
In a reversal of his previous stance, Prime Minister Hun Sen said Monday that defecting Khmer Rouge leaders Khieu Samphan and Nuon Chea should not stand trial before Cambodian courts.
Instead, he said Cambodians should put national reconciliation first and forget about the horrors of the radical Maoist regime that caused the deaths of more than a million Cambodians in the 1970s.
“We must dig a hole and bury the past, and look ahead into the 21st century,” Hun Sen said Monday in a speech to the Council of Ministers. “This is the new government’s policy of pacification and national reconciliation.”
The prime minister, who last year signed a request for the UN to set up an international tribunal to prosecute Khmer Rouge leaders, told the ministers Monday that a trial for Khieu Samphan and Nuon Chea, who defected Friday, would be too divisive.
“If the wound does not hurt, should we poke a stick into it and make it bleed again?” he asked. “If we bring the pair to prison…it could lead to renewed civil war.”
Khieu Samphan, former Democratic Kampuchea head of state, and Nuon Chea, the regime’s former prime minister and Pol Pot’s long-time deputy, are considered prime candidates to be called before an international tribunal if one is set up. Both are considered key architects of the brutal policies that caused the deaths of up to 1.7 million people from torture, disease, starvation and forced labor.
A UN team of legal experts is to make a recommendation in mid-January whether there is enough evidence to warrant a tribunal for Khmer Rouge leaders on charges of crimes against humanity.
Hun Sen met with the UN team on Nov 16 and expressed support for a tribunal. But on Monday, the prime minister suggested that the international community should stay out of the matter and let the Phnom Penh government focus on reconciliation.
“This is the pure Khmer solution,” he said. “If we use the right medicine for ourselves, we will be cured soon. But if foreigners add their medicine, it will continue to go on and on.”
Still, Secretary of State for Information Khieu Kanharith left a door open Monday for Khieu Samphan and Nuon Chea to face an international tribunal, if one is formed.
“We are aware that according to the international convention, nobody can grant amnesty to those who have committed genocide,” Khieu Kanharith said.
Hun Sen’s embracing of the two senior rebel leaders marked a reversal of his earlier policies. Over and over, the CPP prime minister has vowed to arrest Khieu Samphan and Nuon Chea along with brutal Khmer Rouge military commander Ta Mok. The rebel’s long-time leader, Pol Pot, died in the jungle earlier this year.
Hun Sen even went to battle last year over his refusal to accept Khieu Samphan back into society. His rejection of a Funcinpec-brokered defection deal with Khieu Samphan was cited as the reason CPP security forces attacked Funcinpec positions and effectively ousted Prince Norodom Ranariddh as first prime minister in July 1997.
At that time, Hun Sen accused Prince Ranariddh of conspiring with the rebels to overthrow the government and re-establish a new Khmer Rouge regime.
The reasons for the prime minister’s reversal of policy were unclear Monday.
Cambodia scholar David Chandler agreed that there are few reasons for Hun Sen to oppose a trial for Khieu Samphan and Nuon Chea, especially since the Khmer Rouge is no longer a military threat.
“I can’t explain Hun Sen’s rationale, except perhaps that he may believe that a trial is too open-ended a thing for him to control,” he said.
Both Chandler and an Asian diplomat in Phnom Penh suggested that Hun Sen can gain politically by being seen as the one who brought about a final end to decades of civil war and strife.
“He can talk about successful national reconcialition. The King is talking about it, everyone is talking about it, and he is the one who can deliver,” the diplomat said.
Another analyst suggested that the prime minister may have been influenced by the wishes of China, a key supporter of the Khmer Rouge regime. Beijing has long opposed a tribunal for Khmer Rouge crimes, but recently agreed to drop its threat to veto a tribunal.
Hun Sen earlier this month traveled to Beijing to visit King Norodom Sihanouk, and he met with Chinese officials there.
The prime minister himself suggested Monday that his policy was in keeping with the 1991 Paris Peace Accords. The accords were signed by all factions in the long civil war that pitted the Hanoi-backed State of Cambodia government against a nationalist alliance that included Funcinpec’s army, the Khmer People’s National Liberation Front and the Khmer Rouge.
“The Paris Peace Accords do not stipulate holding a trial for the Khmer Rouge. Now, we are continuing to implement the Paris Peace Accords,” Hun Sen said.