Bringing former Khmer Rouge leaders Khieu Samphan and Nuon Chea to trial would be all right, Prime Minister Hun Sen said in an interview with Japan’s NHK television, but warned that prosecuting Ieng Sary, who was foreign minister of the Khmer Rouge regime, would cause the recently established peace to disappear.
“If there is any attempt to prosecute Ieng Sary, it may lead to war again,” Hun Sen told NHK last week. “It is a betrayal of peace and national reconciliation.”
Khieu Samphan, the public face of the Khmer Rouge regime, and Nuon Chea, known as “Brother No 2,” both live in the former rebel stronghold of Pailin.
Ieng Sary lives in Phnom Penh with his wife Ieng Thirith and her sister Khieu Ponnary, Pol Pot’s first wife.
After Ieng Sary led a mass defection of rebels in 1996, he was granted amnesty by King Norodom Sihanouk, who cleared him of his 1979 death sentence during a show trial set up the Vietnamese-backed government.
Hun Sen said he was against any efforts to annul the amnesty. He also reiterated his defense of Ieng Sary, saying that without the defection, the war would have gone on, but added it was up to the courts to handle this issue.
Minister of Cabinet Sok An said Hun Sen’s comments coincide with the law. Article 40 of the Khmer Rouge draft law to try former rebel leaders states no one can avoid prosecution.
Sok An and a National Assembly legislative commission finished reviewing the draft law on Friday. Now it is up to the National Assembly’s permanent committee to decide when the draft law will be considered by all the lawmakers.
A Western diplomat said the issue of Ieng Sary has always been a matter the tribunal must decide.
“Hun Sen has always said that the lawyers can argue over the amnesty,” the diplomat said.
Lao Mong Hay, executive director of the Khmer Institute of Democracy, said that if the tribunal genuinely meets international standards, Ieng Sary will face prosecution.
“When Ieng Sary was given amnesty, it was understood that he could still face a trial later,” he said. “He should be brought to justice.”
Lao Mong Hay also downplayed Hun Sen’s comments that prosecuting Ieng Sary would cause war again.
“It’s possible that a few elements might cause trouble, but there won’t be another war,” he said.