PM Accepts US Plan on Prosecutors for KR Tribunal

On the 25th anniversary of the fall of Phnom Penh to the Khmer Rouge, Prime Minister Hun Sen said he had made yet another stride in the long debate on how to try the movement’s one-time leaders.

Meanwhile, opposition party leader Sam Rainsy organized a formal remembrance ceremony for the more than one million people who died during the Khmer Rouge regime, and criticized the government for artfully stalling the trial negotiation process.

Hun Sen returned on Monday from a summit in Cuba, where he met UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan to discuss the one remaining issue between the UN and the government on how to conduct the trial—the prosecution.

He said he has accepted a US-backed plan to resolve disagreement between the UN and the government, which was presented to him in Cuba by US Senator John Kerry of Massachusetts.

The plan, however, has not yet been commented on by UN legal experts. But Hun Sen and Kofi Annan have agreed that their two negotiating teams will soon meet to hammer out the details, and diplomats on Monday confirmed that Kerry also met Kofi Annan to discuss the plan.

In essence, the plan is a way to resolve the UN’s fears of stalemate in a Cambodian-proposed system of co-prosecutors—one Cambodian, one UN-appointed—on the tribunal court. The UN is also concerned the Cambodian prosecutor could block certain suspects from being tried.

Under the new proposal, if the two prosecutors disagree, a panel of judges in the appeals chambers of the Khmer Rouge court system would vote to resolve the dispute, Hun Sen said.

Speaking to reporters at Poch­entong Airport on Monday, he said the panel—three Cam­bod­ians and two UN appoint­ees—would have to approve if the prosecutors tried to prevent a suspect from standing trial. Moreover, he said, the two sides would have to vote by what is known as a “sup­er-majority,” where at least one of the UN appointees votes along with the Cambodians for a result.

“I think this formula is acceptable if there is not any change made by Kofi Annan,” he said.

Yet Sam Rainsy attacked the government’s manner of negotiating on the trial. He said the yearlong back-and-forth with the UN is merely a stall tactic to make the government appear to want a deal, when in reality it does not.

“I deplore the fact that so much time has been wasted….Their strategy, their tactic is to make the creation [of a tribunal] impossible, while pretending to be willing to have that tribunal,” Sam Rainsy said in front of a skull-filled stupa at the killing fields of Choeung Ek outside the capital.

“These skulls, these souls of the dead who are waiting for justice to be rendered to them, I am afraid they will have to wait for Cam­bodia to achieve real and full democracy,” he said.

Sam Rainsy also criticized the government for not holding any memorial services for the an­niver­sary of the fall of Phnom Penh to the Khmer Rouge. He said that from 1979 to 1989, government leaders who now comprise Hun Sen’s Cambodian Peop­le’s Party celebrated April 17 as their “victory over the Amer­ican imperialists.”

Hun Sen acknowledged that the day has “two meanings.”

“One, it marked the end of foreign invasion into Cambodia, and two, it was the beginning of the suffering of the Cambodian people….But the happiness is less than the sadness….So I do not give value to this day,” he said Monday.

Sam Rainsy said Hun Sen is reluctant to seal a deal with the UN on a Khmer Rouge trial because many members of the current government were once allied with the radical Maoist movement.

He named several officials, including Hun Sen, CPP honorary president Heng Samrin and Senate President Chea Sim, who all served in the Khmer Rouge’s Eastern Zone before defecting to Vietnam halfway through the reg­ime’s four-year rule.

In a recent interview, Heng Sam­rin defended his role in the Khmer Rouge as one who eventually led the resistance against Pol Pot’s troops and said he was not responsible for mass killings.

When the Vietnamese troops overthrew the Khmer Rouge in 1979, Heng Samrin and Hun Sen were appointed by Hanoi to serve in the new regime in Cambodia.

The Vietnamese-led government held a trial of Khmer Rouge leaders Pol Pot and Ieng Sary and issued them death sentences. But the two were not present for the proceedings.

For the next 10 years, the Viet­namese would occupy Cam­bodia. Even now, Vietnamese officials oppose an internationally dominated tribunal of Khmer Rouge leaders, according to a recent editorial published in the official Vietnamese press.

China also disapproves of inc­reas­ed UN involvement in the trial. When talks in 1998 centered around holding an international tribunal like those of Rwandans and Yugoslavians, China threatened to veto such a measure in the UN Security Council.

The current proposal for a “mixed” tribunal of both Cam­bodian and UN-appointed judges and prosecutors is backed by the other security council members—US, France, Russia and Britain—but would not require a vote by the UN body.

(Additional reporting by Thet Sambath)

 

 

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