Provincial court authorities on Sunday confirmed that they ignored an Appeals Court order last month to arrest former Khmer Rouge leaders Khieu Samphan and Nuon Chea, days after denying such an order had been made. The prosecutors also gave different reasons as to why they had refused to carry out the arrest order.
In a letter dated April 9, Appeals Court General Prosecutor Hangrot Raken ordered the provincial prosecutors of Banteay Meanchey, Battambang and Siem Reap provinces to issue arrest warrants for Khieu Samphan and Nuon Chea, according to a copy of the letter obtained Friday.
Confronted with the letter Sunday, Battambang provincial Prosecutor Yam Yeth said he received the April 9 order but did not carry it out.
“Only the special judge for the international Khmer Rouge tribunal can issue the warrant to arrest,” he said. “I am only the provincial prosecutor. I don’t have the power.”
On Thursday, Yam Yeth denied the warrant order was made, saying that he was only asked to gather evidence against the aging Khmer Rouge leaders.
Hangrot Raken, who denied issuing the request on Thursday, did not answer repeated telephone calls Sunday.
Siem Reap provincial Prosecutor So Vat also confirmed Sunday that he had received the warrant order from the general prosecutor, but said he lacked both documented evidence against the former leaders and the funds to properly investigate them.
Only the UN-backed international tribunal that the government is working to establish would have the resources to carry out such a task, he said.
Banteay Meanchey provincial Prosecutor Nhoung Thol did not answer repeated phone calls on Sunday.
Om Yentieng, an adviser to Prime Minister Hun Sen and the deputy president of the task force in charge of organizing the Khmer Rouge tribunal, said Sunday that he was “surprised” by the Appeals Court’s decision to issue a warrant.
The general prosecutor usually shares evidence with the provincial court authorities and leaves the decision to issue an arrest warrant up to those courts, he said. Hangrot Raken’s office had not collected enough evidence against the two to order their arrest, he added.
“If Hangrot Raken accused them of genocide, there should be an international tribunal to handle the case,” Om Yentieng said.
Opposition party lawmaker Son Chhay said Sunday he believed that government officials had pressured provincial authorities not to arrest the former leaders.
“Those prosecutors should be punished because they didn’t respect the order made by the general prosecutor,” he said.
Siem Reap Prosecutor So Vat said he was not worried about any possible repercussions from his refusal to carry out the Appeals Court’s order.
“I don’t think I am wrong, because I don’t even know [enough] about the history of the Khmer Rouge” to prosecute Khieu Samphan, the former head of state for Democratic Kampuchea, and Nuon Chea, who ranked second to Pol Pot, he said. The general prosecutor issued the warrant request in response to pressure from “civil servants,” So Vat said.
In a letter released to the public last month and dated April 12, Hangrot Raken requested that the three provincial prosecutors gather evidence against Khieu Samphan and Nuon Chea specifically for a local war crimes trial, not the international tribunal.
In his April 9 letter, he also ordered prosecutors not to arrest Ieng Sary, calling the former minister of foreign affairs for Democratic Kampuchea a “special case” that would require further investigation before a warrant could be issued.
Prosecutor Yem Yeth said Sunday that he did not believe Khieu Samphan or Nuon Chea would attempt to flee the country.
“They are very old, and the government already pardoned them, so why would they want to run?” he said.