As a UN delegation dispatched here for crucial talks on a trial of former Khmer Rouge leaders is scheduled to depart this morning, missing from their briefcases will be a long-awaited, formal agreement they sought with the government.
Yet government officials remained uncharacteristically upbeat after a final round of talks on Tuesday, leading analysts to believe that a key meeting between the delegation and Prime Minister Hun Sen this morning could result in an informal, handshake pact.
“If I could talk to Hun Sen right now,” political analyst Kao Kim Hourn conjectured Tuesday evening, “I would tell him, ‘Let’s make a historic decision—to agree with the UN and act in the best interests of the people of this country.’”
The UN delegation and its government counterpart—a negotiating team led by Minister of Cabinet Sok An—held its final scheduled talks on Tuesday.
Although some observers wagered that neither side would budge much further than they already had, sources in the meeting said “new” and “creative” ideas were laid out Tuesday on the one key remaining sticking point in the talks—how the court decides who will stand trial.
With the groundwork laid to overcome this impasse, the possibility exists for Hun Sen to step in and seal a deal today, say diplomats who argue that the premier would not haggle over the minutiae in the trial but instead might resolve one “last and final” issue.
However he could not, high-ranking officials have said, go so far as to sign a formal international agreement this week—a pledge to the UN to resolve an issue that has dragged on for years, causing international observers to question Hun Sen’s commitment to human rights.
Signing such an agreement now would mean side-stepping the legislative branch, where the government’s plan—in the form of a draft law—has resided since Hun Sen’s executive branch passed it in January.
Without signing this formal agreement, analysts say, Hun Sen has more time to convince hard-liners within his party, officials in China and other countries wary of UN intervention that Cambodia will retain some control over the trial proceedings.
One CPP central committee member on Tuesday said China is putting constant pressure on the government to hold its own trial, while powerhouses like the US favor heavy UN involvement.
“Right now, [the UN and the government] need time to digest and reflect what’s happened so far,” said Rita Reddy, Cambodia office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights director.
She also suggested the UN delegation could come back to Cambodia to forge a more formal agreement—assuming a law passes through the country’s lawmakers that adheres to the handshake pact made between the government and the UN.
If the pact is to be made this morning, it not only would involve a last-minute, Hun Sen-brokered compromise on how suspects are named, but also incorporate three other concessions already reached during the week of talks, government negotiators said.
These include a provision on amnesties and pardons. Already, the government has told the UN that Cambodia’s constitution allows pardons by the King but assured them that any pardons already granted to former Khmer Rouge rebels will not apply in the upcoming trial, sources said.
Moreover, the government would assure the UN it is committed to arresting suspects and that Cambodian judges would hold a majority on the court, as long as at least one foreign judge votes with this majority.
Although he was vague after talks on Tuesday concluded, Sok An, who usually professes a tough stance with the UN, was upbeat. “For me, I am optimistic, because we are in a very good way to work a solution out.”
(Additional reporting by Chris Decherd)