The general prosecutor of the Appeals Court on Monday defended his April order to arrest former Khmer Rouge leaders Khieu Samphan and Nuon Chea, saying it would not have affected a UN-backed Khmer Rouge tribunal.
Responding to Prime Minister Hun Sen’s claim on Saturday that Cambodian courts had no power to arrest ex-Khmer Rouge cadre, Hangrot Raken said he ordered three provincial prosecutors to issue arrest warrants for the two former leaders on April 9 under a national law, and not for an international tribunal.
“It is not for the Khmer Rouge tribunal,” Hangrot Raken said.
Instead, he said, his order, which was subsequently ignored by the provincial prosecutors of Banteay Meanchey, Battambang, and Siem Reap provinces, was based on Cambodia’s 1994 Law on Outlawing the “Democratic Kampuchea” Group.
That law states, “all persons who are members of the political body, and belong to the military forces, of the ‘Democratic Kampuchea’ group shall be deemed as offenders against the Constitution.” Anyone who violates the law faces between two and five years in jail, it states.
Nuon Chea, who ranked second to Pol Pot, and Khieu Samphan, former head of state for Democratic Kampuchea, defected to the government in December 1998. At the time, Hun Sen said the two should not stand trial before Cambodian courts.
“If the wound does not hurt, should we poke a stick into it and make it bleed again?” Hun Sen asked after Khieu Samphan and Nuon Chea defected in 1998. “If we bring the pair to prison…it could lead to renewed civil war.”
On Monday, Hangrot Raken, who had received a letter from opposition lawmaker Son Chhay and prominent rights groups in early April to order the arrests, declined to speak directly about Hun Sen’s statement Saturday that no arrests of ex-Khmer Rouge leaders will be made until the UN-supported tribunal is established.
“I don’t want to make any comment” against the prime minister, Hangrot Raken said.
Although the provincial court prosecutors refused to carry out his order, Hangrot Raken said they should not be reprimanded, because they must first investigate the two former leaders.
“They need a lot of time to conduct their investigations,” he said.
Opposition lawmaker Son Chhay lent his support to the general prosecutor on Monday, saying the three provincial prosecutors had a duty to comply with the Appeals Court order.
“The order made by Hangrot Raken was correct. This is a mistake by the prosecutors for not issuing the warrants,” Son Chhay said Monday.
Lao Mong Hay of the Center for Social Development agreed, accusing Hun Sen of “interfering with the courts” by announcing that no arrests would be made.
“I think the Prime Minister …should not do that and should let the court work,” he said.
But Hun Sen adviser Om Yentieng said the Appeals Court prosecutor overstepped his bounds by ordering the arrests.
“The general prosecutor can only offer ideas to help prosecutors when those prosecutors are working on a case. The general prosecutor never orders them to make arrests. This is very strange,” Om Yentieng said.
Om Yentieng said the Cambodian courts could not arrest Nuon Chea and Khieu Samphan under the 1994 outlaw law.
The cases of former Khmer Rouge military commander Ta Mok, and Duch, the former director of Tuol Sleng prison, are different, Om Yentieng said, because unlike Khieu Samphan and Nuon Chea, neither defected to the government. Both Ta Mok and Duch are in jail awaiting trial.
On Monday, Siem Reap prosecutor So Vat denied that he defied the general prosecutor’s order, but said he could not issue the arrest warrants because he does not have the funds required to carry out a proper investigation.
“I didn’t refuse the order, but I don’t have the ability to search for evidence,” he said. “It is very hard to find evidence.”