Observers React Positively to KR Tribunal Deal AgreeReaction to

Observers on Tuesday generally hailed the draft agreement on a tribunal of former Khmer Rouge leaders reached Monday by government and UN negotiators, while Prime Minister Hun Sen indicated the Cambodian side was ready and eager to proceed with approving the document.

“This Friday, I will [submit the draft] to the Council of Ministers and ask for their approval,” Hun Sen said Tuesday morning in Prey Veng province in a speech broadcast on Apsara radio.

“Then they will pass it to the National Assembly to ratify,” the premier said, noting that the Assembly would also have to amend Cambodia’s 2001 law on the tribunal to bring it into conformity with the new agreement.

Civil society critics cautioned that they had not yet seen the text of the draft accord, which was scheduled to be presented to the UN General Assembly by Sec­retary-General Kofi Annan on Tuesday in New York. But based on the details released so far, they proclaimed themselves pleased because an agreement was reached and because of its apparent content. The General Assem­bly must also approve the agreement for it to proceed.

“I think both parties balanced out the agreement very well,” said Youk Chhang, executive director of the Documentation Cen­ter of Cambodia. “It is a checks-and-balances process that will help ensure that the trial of former Khmer Rouge leaders will be fair.”

Youk Chhang said he believed the agreement adequately addres­sed concerns previously expressed by human rights groups that Cambodia’s judiciary could not guarantee a fair trial and that the UN’s role was not sufficient to hold Cambodia to a higher standard.

“If the UN is satisfied with this process…I think those concerns don’t exist anymore,” he said.

Khmer Institute for Demo­cracy Executive Director Keat Sukun said he was reassured by UN head negotiator Hans Corell, who met with NGOs on Friday.

“I feel that I can trust him to make sure that the UN will be very active and involved to make sure international standards are followed,” he said.

Cambodian Defenders Project Executive Director Sok Sam Oeun agreed the UN would provide adequate safeguards. “The UN will not allow this tribunal to destroy their reputation,” he said.

The legal aid group had previously criticized several aspects of the proposed trial process: It said the required majority-plus-one of trial judges and the “pre-trial chamber” to settle disputes between co-prosecutors and co-investigators were too cumbersome, and that all pardons and amnesties, past or present, should not be admissible.

The new accord preserves the super-majority rule and the pre-trial chamber. While it rules out future pardons and amnesties, it leaves to the tribunal the issue of former Khmer Rouge foreign minister Ieng Sary’s 1996 royal pardon for his 1979 genocide conviction.

Sok Sam Oeun said all of these matters were “compromises I can accept.” He said he believed the Cambodian side had, to his surprise, made more concessions than the UN side.

As for the next step, Youk Chhang said he expected the National Assembly to be no obstacle. “I don’t see any problem, honestly,” he said. “I can’t imagine anyone getting up from their chair to say, ‘No, I don’t accept a trial to condemn the perpetrators of genocide.’”

Chea Vannath, president of the Center for Social Development, was less charitable. “The agreement is a very good sign. But the political will to hold the trial is what is needed,” she said.

That willingness, she said, “depends on whether it benefits the ruling party or not.”

Chan Ven, deputy secretary-general of the Assembly, said Tuesday that the legislature was ready to come together within 10 days of a government request for a special session.

“Even though right now we are on holiday, [reaching a] quorum will be no problem because the Khmer Rouge is our common enemy,” he said.

Hun Sen adviser Om Yentieng said the government would prevail upon the Assembly to fast-track the legislation “as soon as possible.” But he would not say whether that would happen before or after the elections, nor would he estimate when a trial could potentially begin.

Hun Sen, himself a former Khmer Rouge military officer, on Tuesday called attention to the draft agreement’s stipulation that only “senior leaders of Demo­cratic Kampuchea” could be prosecuted. “It will not affect [those who were] low-ranking soldiers, so they should not interpret it wrongly,” he said.

A return to conflict was unlikely, Keat Sukun said, because “I don’t think [former Khmer Rouge] care about fighting anymore.”

But in Pailin, where most of the current local officials were once midranking Khmer Rouge, steps toward a tribunal met with resentment. Pailin Deputy Governor Keut Sothea, a former midlevel rebel military officer, said, “People here are not happy about this trial because they thought the issue was ended.”

Keut Sothea said he knew he would not be prosecuted, and he did not express lingering loyalty to his former chiefs. He said he objected as a matter of principle.

“We all defected to the government to live in peace and end the war,” he said. “So why is [the issue] coming back again? The government promised before our defections that it would not punish us but let us live in society and work in government.”

Similarly, Pailin Cabinet chief Mey Makk, the former rebel commander then in charge of Pochentong Airport, said the prospect of a trial was both bad faith and a distraction.

“Who would defect to the government again if [there were another rebellion]?” he said. Besides, “People [here] are just busy making a living.”

(Addition­al reporting by Nhem Chea Bunly)

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