Opposition leader Sam Rainsy Tuesday accused the administration of former US president Bill Clinton of underestimating Prime Minister Hun Sen’s power to sway negotiations on the Khmer Rouge tribunal in his favor, and he invited US President George W Bush’s administration to better challenge the premier.
Bush officials could start by refusing to fund the tribunal, he said in a speech before the Council on Foreign Relations, a Washington-based foreign policy discussion group.
“Rather, with commune elections scheduled for early 2002, American taxpayer dollars might be better spent on leveling the playing field so that [Cambodian] democrats are in a position to contest these important elections,” he said.
An official at the US Embassy in Phnom Penh said no decision has been made about who will pay for the tribunal, but that the tribunal law “deserves support, and [Sam Rainsy] supported it” by voting for its passage in the National Assembly.
The diplomat said that if Sam Rainsy wants the trial to take place, he should be encouraging the international community to fund it. “To do otherwise brings his own motives into question,” the diplomat said.
“It’s a political issue for him. He doesn’t want the government credited with a success.”
Sam Rainsy suggested that feelings of guilt over inaction during the 1994 killings in Rwanda might have prompted Clinton administration officials to work closely with Hun Sen’s CPP on the tribunal.
But, he said, “this is a classic example of the potter not knowing the weakness of his clay.” The prime minister and his party are more interested in controlling who gets tried and how they are tried than in seeking justice, he said.
Hun Sen already has made it clear he does not want Ieng Sary, Brother Number 3 during the brutal ultra-leftist regime, to be tried, Sam Rainsy said.
“The reality is that Hun Sen has been de facto prime minister of Cambodia since 1985, and no one should doubt his ability to control the genocide trial to his own ends,” he said.
Sam Rainsy also told the council that both King Norodom Si-hanouk and Prince Norodom Ranariddh, president of the National Assembly, did not sign the tribunal law.
“To the experienced Cambodia watcher, the King and Prince Ranariddh are sending an unmistakable message that this tribunal is solely Hun Sen’s,” he said.
He said US citizens might wonder why he voted for the tribunal law. “Like the royal family, I, too, want to avoid being blamed for the demise of the tribunal, which is inevitable,” he said.
Had he voted against it, he said, the CPP would have promptly accused him “of wanting no trial at all for Khmer Rouge atrocities.”
He urged the council and the Bush administration to “reorient US policy towards Cambodia” by reaffirming support of democracy and the rule of law.
Legitimate US security interests in the region include narcotics and human trafficking, money laundering, crime, and increasing Chinese influence, he said.