Some say five, some say 10, and now, some say as many as 15 former leaders of the 1970s Khmer Rouge regime will be tried for crimes against humanity in the planned UN-supported tribunal expected to open next year.
But amid the speculation, the government line remains the same: Let the court decide who, and how many, Khmer Rouge defendants will stand trial.
“Sounds like people are just barking up trees,” said Helen Jarvis, an adviser to the government’s tribunal task force. “There are no names, no numbers.”
Kyodo news agency reported on Saturday that “diplomatic sources” close to tribunal negotiations between Cambodian and UN officials two weeks ago estimated that a maximum of 15 former Khmer Rouge leaders would stand trial.
The number came out of discussions covering staffing, expenses, premises, judicial training, documentation, security and legal issues, Kyodo reported.
Last week, after saying it was “highly improper” to specify the number of potential indictees and criticizing a local Khmer-language newspaper for doing so, UN spokesman Fred Eckhard said that a range of five to 10 indictees was assumed by both parties to draft a budget proposal.
“But this figure could change depending on the investigative and prosecutorial strategy that the future court may wish to adopt,” Eckhard added.
The agreement establishing the tribunal signed by government and UN officials in June, which still needs to be ratified by the National Assembly, says “the scope of the investigation is
limited to senior leaders of Democratic Kampuchea and those who were most responsible for the serious crimes and violations” committed between April 17, 1975, and Jan 6, 1979.
Youk Chhang, director of the Documentation Center of Cambodia, said earlier this month that six known senior leaders of the murderous regime were still alive. He could not be contacted Monday.
In 2001, a report listed seven likely Khmer Rouge regime indictees, one of whom has since died. The six are Nuon Chea, known as Brother No 2; Ieng Sary, foreign minister; Khieu Samphan, president; Ta Mok, military chief; and Sou Met and Meas Mut, senior military officials. Ke Pauk, another military official, died last year.
Ta Mok and Duch, the former director of Tuol Sleng prison in Phnom Penh, are the only Khmer Rouge leaders currently in prison.
Pailin Governor and former Khmer Rouge commander Y Chhien said Monday that raising the number of potential defendants at the tribunal would trouble former lower-ranking members of the regime.
Former Khmer Rouge soldiers “will not be happy with widespread accusations,” Y Chhien said by telephone.
Most lower-ranking regime members simply followed orders from the top because they were scared not to do so, he said.
“My idea, I think, the trial should only be for main leaders,” Y Chhien said. “I don’t say the former Khmer Rouge people will rise up, but they will not feel good if more people are involved in the court.”