News of KR Tribunal Little Noticed in Pailin

Pailin – To some former officials of the Khmer Rouge regime, this week was one like any other. In his brand new cement house, former Khmer Rouge head of state Khieu Samphan worried about paying his children’s school fees. And across town, Nuon Chea, or “Brother No 2,” lay on his sick bed while his family did the daily chores.

The situation could not have been more different in Phnom Penh, where on Monday the government announced it had finished all the legal work necessary for the Khmer Rouge tribunal and the only hurdle left is to settle funding with the UN.

In Pailin, that news seemed just another small step in a decade-long process.

Khieu Samphan did not want to discuss the tribunal on Tuesday; he would rather talk about the poor state of the road to Pailin or the lack of rain.

“I stopped thinking about the country’s affairs,” he said. “If I do, it is useless, so let younger generations worry about it.”

He refused to comment on recent tribunal developments and said he has already written down everything he had to say.

Thirty kilometers away, and only a stone’s throw from the Thai border, Nuon Chea lay ill behind closed doors.

Around the compound he once shared with Khieu Samphan, Nuon Chea’s relatives cut wood and watched movies. His wife cared for him in a shuttered stilt house.

His son Nuon Sai said they had heard the tribunal would start soon and that the former Khmer Rouge leader, though old, was ready. Nuon Sai said his father is planning to stay with relatives in Phnom Penh during the tribunal and he expressed concern over Nuon Chea’s health.

“His brain is sick,” said Nuon Sai, pointing to his head. But he added that it would not stop Nuon Chea from having his day in court.

“He is prepared to appear in court,” Nuon Sai said.

Nuon Sai said that he felt the Khmer Rouge tribunal was unjust. By putting a handful of former Khmer Rouge leaders on trial, the government was not acknowledging the extent of the regime.

“The revolution needed people from throughout the country. They could not have kicked out America [and the Lon Nol regime] with the cooperation of just a few people,” he said.

“All of us together made up the three year and eight month regime.”

Nuon Chea’s grandson Borann agreed.

“We all ate noodles, how can only one person pay?” asked Borann, who gave only one name.

He said his grandfather had stopped caring about new developments in the tribunal because he lived in the forest, far from the reach of the media.

When Borann spoke, he seemed proud of his grandfather.

“[Nuon Chea] is not a normal person,” he said, adding: “He is either guilty or not guilty, it depends on the authorities.”

Y Chhien, governor of Pailin and the city’s former commander under the Khmer Rouge, said he welcomed any progress on the trial.

“It’s good,” he said. “We proposed to the government to have a tribunal.”

Others in Pailin had not heard the government’s announcement, and seemed to care little.

One family, which defected from the Khmer Rouge to the government in 1993, thought the whole event was political. They now own a woodworking shop and sell luxury furniture to a dwindling number of visitors from Phnom Penh and Battambang.

But Borann just wanted the whole thing to be over with.

“I want the tribunal to go ahead faster,” he said. “I need to know the bad from the good.”

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