Samlot-For 40 years an avid Khmer Rouge supporter, Meas Muth, now 70, is living the
good life in northwest Cambodia. Five kids, a flock of geese and a yard full of fruit
trees take up his time.
Bothered only by the occasional "whispering" journalist who makes his way
down the dirt lane to his door, or the nighttime "thief" who comes to steal
coconuts or chickens, his days are peaceful, he says.
"This is enough for me. I have enough food. It is peace. I can sleep well."
But with five former Khmer Rouge leaders now in jail in Phnom Penh and a tribunal
anxious to kick up its trial pace before funding runs out, Muth could well find his
name on the next arrest list of those to be tried for atrocities committed by the
Khmer Rouge from 1975 to 1979. It is unknown when an arrest could take place. The
Extraordinary Chambers in the Courts of Cambodia is still struggling with the issue
of whether or not to try more than five "senior leaders" of the Khmer Rouge.
Muth spent his career as a soldier -first as a high ranking Khmer Rouge Secretary
of the Central Committee Division 164, which included the Communist Party of Kampuchea
navy, and later, after surrender by the Khmer Rouge, as an officer of the armed forces
in the current government of the Kingdom of Cambodia.
During the Pol Pot time, according to research by the Documentation Center of Cambodia,
Muth is responsible for playing a direct role in the arrest and transfer of unknown
numbers of Cambodians - Khmer Rouge "cadre"-to the Tuol Sleng S-21 torture
prison in Phnom Penh. The head of the prison, Kaing Guek Eav, or Duch, was charged
in July 2007 and is expected to be the first up for trial.
Muth said he has not been contacted by tribunal authorities and is not concerned
by the prospect of legal action.
"I am not worried. Spread my words," he told the Post in an interview January
16 on the patio of his large wood home at the end of an alley in Samlot, bordering
jungle known for decades as KR territory.
"There's no need to arrest me, you can come and take me anytime," he said.
At 70, Muth is younger than the other senior KR leaders arrested in a flurry of tribunal
activity late last year.
Tribunal officials have not indicated when further arrests will be forthcoming. ECCC
spokesman Peter Foster said that foreign prosecutor Robert Petit, Cambodian prosecutor
Chea Leang and their staffs are still pursuing their investigations.
Muth denied he was concerned about his possible arrest and said he views the court
as "political" and not a real court. Asked if he would participate as a
witness for the prosecution or the defense, he said, "If there is benefit or
interest to me I would participate."
Chewing on a green stogy and spitting in a bowl, Muth sat on a plastic chair in his
home beside a Buddhist monk as his young children ran through the yard and chickens
and geese squawked. The monk, Muth said, was waiting to discuss with him some work
for the local pagoda.
Muth declined to discuss his relationship with Pol Pot except to say it began long
ago. He also declined to disclose when he joined the Khmer Rouge movement. However,
he is known to be a son-in-law of Ta Mok, the reputedly brutal senior Khmer Rouge
commander in whose custody Pol Pot died in 1998.
Instead he described what he sees as the legacy of the Khmer Rouge-the irrigation
dams and canals-and he asserted that he doesn't believe the Khmer Rouge Tribunal
is worth all the money being spent on it.
"The court brings gifts to the rich, not to the poor," he said.
Behind him a DVD player and a TV sat on a table, and a young woman served water from
a kettle in new tin cups. The room's modern metal roller security shutters were fully
opened and a breeze running through the yard cooled the downstairs rooms-laid with
clean blue and white tiles-without use of a fan.
TRACEY SHELTON AND TANG CHHIN SON
Meas Muth (inset) and in the background his house in Samlot.
According to research by Stephen Heder in Seven Candidates for Prosecution: Accountability
for the Crimes of the Khmer Rouge, published in 2001, Muth bears substantial responsibility
for some of the crimes committed by the KR.
Muth worked in the military hierarchy of the Communist Party of Kampuchea in a position
in which he was responsible for policing the behavior of lower level party members
as well as anyone within his division territory who did not conform with the KR movement.
Heder's research concludes that Muth is one of the seven top candidates for prosecution.
However, it is up to the ECCC to decide whether Muth fits the definition of either
a "senior leader" or one of those "most responsible" for the
mass murders. Youk Chhang, director of the Documentation Center of Cambodia, which
has collected hundreds of thousands of pages of telegrams, photos and other documentary
evidence of the KR's operations and the killing fields, said the focus for now should
be kept on the five defendants in jail.
"Muth was not one of the senior leaders and there is no clear definition of
'those most responsible', he said. "The others were part of the Central Committee
of the CPK."
Muth referred often in the interview to the responsibility he thinks the United States
bears for the bombing of Cambodia in the early 1970s. "Everything is involved
all together," he said.
He asserted that no one can prove who killed a million-plus Cambodians because of
the air raids and the Vietnamese invasion of Cambodia launched December 24, 1978
to suppress the Khmer Rouge.
Muth said he wouldn't speak about Pol Pot "because he is dead."
But he said he is teaching his children that the legacy of Pol Pot is the irrigation
"When we think about him, when we dream about him, when you cross the country
you see the irrigation system. When the French controlled Cambodia there was no irrigation
system. Have you ever seen the holes of the B52 bombers across Cambodia?"
"I try to prepare my children. I take the children by the hand to go to the
dam. They say what is this? And I explain to them who made it. I take them by the
hand to go to the ponds or lakes. They ask who made it? I say it is a bomb hole."
He blames Americans for the bomb holes and he blames the Vietnamese for killing many
Cambodians in their invasion in 1978/9. He discussed the bones uncovered in the killing
"They say more than one million were killed. They use the skulls as evidence.
Can the scientists clarify by the skulls which skull was killed by the Khmer Rouge,
which by the Vietnamese, which by the B52 bombers? If you cannot clarify that part
then do not talk about justice. It is justice for the ghosts," Muth said.
"For me justice is simple: the U.S. bombs, the Vietnamese invasion. Justice
for one period doesn't mean justice for me."
Besides Muth, another high-ranking military general identified as one of the "seven
candidates" for prosecution is Sou Met, whose position in the Khmer Rouge was
Secretary of Central Committee Division 502, which incorporated the air force.
On February 4 the tribunal judges are scheduled to hear the appeal of Nuon Chea,
Brother Number 2, who was arrested in September at his home in Pailin.