The Military Court formally summoned deposed first prime minister Prince Norodom Ranariddh and two resistance generals Monday to appear March 17 on charges of colluding with the Khmer Rouge.
Also summoned was Chao Sambath, a Funcinpec general who human rights groups have said was the victim of an extrajudicial killing during factional fighting in July.
Military Court Director Ney Thol issued four separate summonses for the prince, Chao Sambath, and resistance military leaders Nhiek Bun Chhay and Serey Kosal on charges of “criminal acts against the country’s security” and violating articles 2 and 4 of the Outlawed Khmer Rouge Law.
Neither the judge nor the prosecutor for the Military Court could be reached for comment.
The trial is one of two set for this month. They are key to a Japanese peace proposal that would see Prince Ranariddh receive a royal amnesty—if he is found guilty—and pave the way for him to participate in the elections scheduled for July 26.
The prince, Nhiek Bun Chhay the trial, to be held in absentia. The prince has dismissed the charges as politically motivated. Sao Sok said the court had appointed a legal representative for the prince, but declined to name the individual chosen.
Military Court Director Ney Thol, who will act as the judge in the case, said Monday the trial will be open to media, observers and the public, who can judge the proceedings for themselves.
Few observers, however, believe the prince can receive a fair trial within a court system that has been widely criticized for its lack of independence and its historical allegiance to the CPP.
“How can a trial possibly be fair when the government has already decided the outcome?” one human-rights worker asked Monday, referring to Second Prime Minister Hun Sen’s frequent assertions of the prince’s guilt.
At least two human-rights organizations—the UN Center for Human Rights and the NGO Adhoc—will send representatives to witness Wednesday’s court proceedings.
The international community, meanwhile, seems more focused on the eventual consequences of the trial than the verdict. No Asean embassy contacted Monday had plans to send an observer to the trial.
“We want to see the Japanese four-point plan followed through,” one Asian diplomat said Monday. “The rest is immaterial.”
Wednesday’s trial, along with a second hearing scheduled for March 17, is part of a Japanese-brokered peace plan aimed at allowing the prince to return to Cambodia in time to participate in July’s elections.
If convicted, the prince will have to obtain a pardon from his father, King Norodom Sihanouk, to clear the way for his participation in the upcoming polls.
Most of the international community is still insisting that the prince be allowed to participate in the polls if they are to be judged free, fair and credible.
Meanwhile, prosecutors remained silent on details of the evidence they plan to present at the prince’s trial.
“I imagine it will be things like the documents ordering the weapons,” one Asean diplomat speculated Monday.
The charges against the prince arose from last May’s seizure of a 2-ton shipment of weapons and ammunition on arrival at Sihanoukville Port, addressed to Prince Ranariddh.