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Wednesday, December 27, 2006

Prime Minister Hun Sen silenced on Khmer Rouge trial

Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen on Wednesday sidestepped the issue of the stalled trials of Khmer Rouge leaders, instead telling the nation that the country had successfully achieved national reconciliation and moved forward. Speaking in the former Khmer Rouge stronghold of Anlong Veng on the nation's northern border with Thailand, Hun Sen said the war was over and it was a positive sign for the future that former Khmer Rouge areas, such as Anlong Veng, had been integrated into peacetime Cambodia.

He said "the story had ended" when senior former Khmer Rouge leaders, including former head of state Khieu Samphan and Pol Pot's former deputy Nuon Chea, had come to his home and eaten with him in December 1998, marking the formal surrender of the Khmer Rouge. The term "story" is also a Cambodian euphemism for its 30-year civil war.

But despite his reference to Khieu Samphan and Nuon Chea, who would be prime candidates to stand trial, Hun Sen avoided any direct reference to the 56.3-million-dollar UN-Cambodian-sponsored trial of former Khmer Rouge leaders, currently stalled yet again amid bitter wrangling over the court's internal rules.

The trials have not yet reached their indictment stage despite the prosecution phase getting under way in mid-2006, and it remained unclear which former leaders would stand trial. Former Kymer Rouge foreign minister Ieng Sary defected and was granted amnesty from genocide charges by then-king Norodom Sihanouk in 1996 although some remain keen to indict him on charges of crimes against humanity. Former military commander Ta Mok died in a military hospital this year and was cremated in Anlong Veng. The movement's former leader Pol Pot died in Anlong Veng in 1998.

However, on Wednesday in former Khmer Rouge heartland, Hun Sen preferred to focus on Cambodia's new era of peace and sidestep the growing storm over the pace of justice - a matter he has left in the hands of Deputy Prime Minister Sok An. "So many people died in the war," Hun Sen said in the speech, which was broadcast on national radio. "We achieved national reconciliation. Please don't let national reconciliation break down."

The lack of direct reference to the trials was unlikely to please critics, some of which have accused Hun Sen's government of deliberately delaying the long-awaited trials of a handful of surviving leaders of the 1975-1979 Khmer Rouge regime. Earlier this month, New York-based Human Rights Watch accused the government of meddling in the trial process, and this week, a coalition of human-rights organizations urged the court to resolve the conflict over procedural rules with haste.

The government - which contains a number of former Khmer Rouge cadre who fled the movement under the excesses of its leader Pol Pot and returned to Phnom Penh, backed by Vietnamese troops, to overthrow the regime - has maintained it is determined to try the former leaders to international standards. Up to 2 million Cambodians died under the Khmer Rouge regime.

However, most of its now mainly ageing and ailing former leaders continue to live freely and openly without ever having faced justice. Read more!