Former senior Khmer Rouge leader Ieng Sary’s magazine has published a long interview with a top Buddhist monk who suggests that former Khmer Rouge who have defected to the government might deserve to escape trial.
The interview with Tep Vong, patriarch of the Monhanikay, the larger of Cambodia’s two Buddhist sects, was first published in December by Searching for the Truth, the magazine of the Documentation Center of Cambodia. It was reprinted in the first quarter of 2002 by Pka Reak (Blooming Flower), which belongs to the Democratic National Union Movement, led by Ieng Sary.
In the interview, laced with stories of the Buddha and discussions of karma, Tep Vong is asked, “Should the Khmer Rouge who inflicted sufferings to Khmer people, who you have said to have sinned, be prosecuted?”
Tep Vong responded that the answer would depend on the courts. He said it was “fair that [leaders] should be forced to take accountability for their crimes in their current lives.”
“But how can we do it if Pol Pot, Hu Yuon, Hu Nim and Son Sen have all died?” he added. “Also, we have to distinguish between those who defected and those who are obstinate.”
Former Khmer Rouge foreign minister Ieng Sary and thousands of his followers defected to the government in 1996, a move widely credited for helping to end years of civil warfare. UN and other international observers have suggested that Ieng Sary should be tried even though King Norodom Sihanouk granted him a royal amnesty in 1996 for a 1979 genocide conviction handed down in Phnom Penh by a Vietnamese-sponsored court.
Also in the interview, Tep Vong said, “Even some Khmer Rouge soldiers, who have realized their mistakes and defected, might be brought to trial. With this sense, justice does not prevail.”
The magazine does not credit the Documentation Center or say who conducted the interview, and magazine editors did not receive permission to reprint it, said Youk Chhang, director of the Documentation Center, which collects information for the anticipated Khmer Rouge tribunal.
Suong Sikheoun, editor of Pka Reach, first claimed that the article originated with his magazine. Later, an editor who spoke on condition of anonymity said Tep Vong handed the magazine a transcript of the interview.
“The interview says if we have a trial, it should not be too widespread,” the editor said, adding, “We should think about national reconciliation.”
Reprinting articles without permission is a common practice in the Cambodian press.
Youk Chhang said Khmer Rouge leaders frequently read his center’s monthly magazine and have asked him for copies. “I think we’re educating them and they’re beginning to learn,” he said. “They are challenging the truth and beginning their own search for what the truth is about. But they have to cite the sources.”
In the wide-ranging interview, Tep Vong said that he was “detained for 80 days and tortured ruthlessly” during the Khmer Rouge regime. “Nonetheless, I could bear all that agony, since it was the result of my past life’s bad deeds.”
Tep Vong called the Khmer Rouge regime a period of “religious lawlessness.” He recalled a story about a mentally ill man who was killed.
“[Pol Pot’s] big mistake was that he passed no specific law for others to follow, since he eliminated religions. With the absence of religion, neither sin nor goodness occurred.”
He said he was unclear whether the suffering during the Khmer Rouge regime was exclusively the fault of its leaders or whether victims were also paying for their past sins as part of the karmic cycle.
“I am not sure whether Pol Pot is the one who initiated the karma. If he was not, the suffering and loss of lives are sins from the past.”
He said the trial could enforce karmic justice if the proceedings are fair: “According to religious law, if justice prevails, there won’t be any vindictiveness.”
But he also offered solace in case the trial does not occur, saying the perpetrators will pay in their next lives.
“Pol Pot, Hu Yuon, Hu Nim and Lon Nol and his men have died because of their evil deeds, and I can’t imagine how miserable their souls are,” he said.