Parties Near Agreement On Ta Mok Amendment

Funcinpec lawmakers Monday agreed to change the penal code so the government can delay the trial of captured Khmer Rouge military leader Ta Mok, inching closer to a deal that would detain him for an unspecified period beyond the six months allowed under current law.

“In principle, Funcinpec would agree,’’ said Monh Saphan, chairman of the National Assembly’s legislation committee, where his party blocked the proposal last week. “We still want to study it in more detail and find a new formula because we want the amendment to be made perfect.”

The parties will meet again this week on the issue, he added.

If an agreement can be hashed out, the government would likely scrap plans to keep Ta Mok in custody by trying him next month for violating a 1994 law banning the Khmer Rouge—a prospect which Hun Sen and some Western analysts say would air embarrassing details about the collusion of current government officials with Khmer Rouge elements in the months leading up to the July 1997 factional fighting.

Instead the government would likely try Ta Mok as originally intended: at a later date as part of a larger tribunal aimed at bringing justice to the more than 1 million people who died as a result of the failed policies of the 1975-1979 Pol Pot regime.

“Now I do not have a plan to delay the Ta Mok trial,’’ Ngim Sam An, the investigative judge on the case, said Monday. “But if we have a law for delay, the court will follow it because before we didn’t have anyway to detain him for any longer.’’

Forty-two CPP lawmakers submitted a petition calling for an emergency session of Parliament last month, in the hopes of passing legislation that would allow the government to delay the trial of Ta Mok.

Many senior CPP officials were members of the Khmer Rouge until 1977 and 1978, but party members have maintained none of their leaders were involved in the regime’s brutal policies and that they have nothing to hide.

The wording of their legislation would allow the government to detain anyone suspected of “genocidal crimes, war crimes, or crimes against humanity’’ for up to five years without a trial.

Human rights groups and opposition partymembers said they opposed the plan because they worried it could be used as a tool to incarcerate political opponents. Funcinpec members said they needed more time to consider it.

Ta Mok was snagged in March, but must be released under current law if the government does not begin a trial before a six-month deadline expires in September.

Tol Lah, deputy prime minister and a top Funcinpec party member, said the Funcinpec steering committee met Friday to examine the proposal and decided to support it with modifications.

“Since the beginning, we have never said we oppose it,’’ Tol Lah said. “We just needed more time to study it.’’

After consulting with lawyers, Funcinpec decided to support the proposal for two reasons, he explained. Originally some members had expressed concerns because the law was drafted by foreign experts during the Untac period, thus the National As­sembly might not have the constitutional authority to modify it, he said.

Tol Lah said party lawyers decided the penal code could be modified because it was supported during the Untac period by the Supreme National Council, the highest “institution’’ at the time.

Politically, the party decided to support the plan, Tol Lah said, because “cooperation is very important to our party and we cannot afford to lose stability, and second Funcinpec cannot afford to be blamed as the party that obstructs a trial of Ta Mok.’’

The final hurdle appears to have been cleared during a final meeting between Prince Minister Hun Sen, the CPP vice president, and Funcinpec President Prince Norodom Ranariddh on Monday morning, which Tol Lah de­scribed as “a very good meeting.’’

Tol Lah and Monh Saphan said they want to modify the proposal, possibly by reducing the amount of time Ta Mok and others fitting into the category can be detained. Both suggested Funcinpec may seek to rewrite the entire legal code.

Son Chhay, an opposition party parliamentarian, called the idea of amending the law just for Ta Mok “ridiculous.’’

“We propose that the ruling party and Funcinpec rethink this decision,’’ he said. “A proper way to do it would be to create a separate law to deal with the Khmer Rouge. We believe the law could be used as a scapegoat for a lot of problems.’’

Though the draft amendment’s definition of who the extended detention time would apply to mirrors language spelled out in the Geneva Conventions for “war criminals,” Son Chhay still has concerns.

“In the British and US legal systems there are clear definitions,’’ he said. “But here the interpretation could be misused. You cannot understand without our experience in the past with killings and the unexpected.’’

Om Yentieng, a senior adviser to Hun Sen, reiterated CPP arguments that a failure to pass the law would be “not so good for national reconciliation,’’ because of the negative revelations that he claimed would emerge about current government officials.

(Addi­tional reporting by Phann Ana)

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