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Logo of Phnom Penh Post newspaper Phnom Penh Post - Gathering evidence for the prosecution

Gathering evidence for the prosecution

C AMBODIAN Genocide Program (CGP) manager Craig Etcheson is upbeat about the

progress of investigations into Khmer Rouge mass killings, just days before a

Yale University-hosted "Striving For Justice" conference in Phnom

Penh.

The conference to be held on Aug 21 and 22 will be chaired by CGP

director Ben Kiernan. About 50 people have been invited from overseas.

A

study, or discussion paper later to be published as a book, will be presented to

"help the debate among Cambodians and international observers to achieve justice

and national reconciliation..." according to a local human rights worker invited

to the conference.

The conference will recommend several different

approaches, and analysis on the advantages and disadvantages of each.

The

conference is likely to discuss a key provision in the US Congress Cambodian

Genocide Justice Act: "to submit... data to a national or international penal

tribunal that may be convened to formally hear and judge the genocidal acts

committed by the Khmer Rouge."

This provision does not form part of the

CGP's mandate.

Etcheson said that two of the CGP's three project areas

into the Democratic Kampuchea (DK) era atrocities - that of documentation and

training - were well ahead of schedule.

The third area, that of research,

was "about on schedule," Etcheson said.

"The database we are assembling

will be much more sophisticated and useful than we had originally envisaged," he

said.

"We think the database has the potential to revolutionize the field

of Cambodian study of the DK era... It will be a very powerful research tool,"

he said. The database will include not only interviews, but photos, maps and

scanned documents.

"We have achieved in six weeks what we had hoped to

accomplish after 12 months," he said.

Etcheson was hesitant about

disclosing new evidence. He said "we have discovered a wide variety of data from

sources we didn't know about when we started", which had not been seen by

scholars.

As an example, he said his team had discovered a couple of

large collections of KR photographs from a period "where we didn't know [any]

existed before."

Cambodians were volunteering materials and help. "It

happens all the time," he said. "Government officials, National Assembly

members, human rights workers and ordinary citizens all come and offer us

information".

When asked about any single, crucial piece of evidence that

his team was working toward, Etcheson said: "Ah yes, the smoking

gun."

"We do have preconceptions about that. One thing we would like to

find are officials documents from Party Center, transmitting directives to field

commands to implement Party policies on treatment of Buddhists. That might be an

example of a smoking gun."

"There must have been something like that, and

we would like to find it."

Etcheson said his team was a "large,

multi-national" one working in Australia, Europe, the United States and

Cambodia.

He said "we are continuing to encourage a variety of

governments to participate in the work of the CGP".

One Khmer was

attending a two-year masters course at Yale University, another had been

recently accepted, "and we are looking for more," he said.

Researchers

were being trained locally in investigative and methodological techiniques "and

that's proceeding well," he said.

Cambodian government officials and

human rights workers were being trained in international human rights and

criminal laws.

Etcheson said of the research work "we are beginning to

see a draft production from our researchers, but bear in mind that we still have

nearly 18 months before we expect to have the final draft."

Etcheson said

the goal was to produce detailed studies of each DK zone in the country during

the 1975-79 period. "We want to look at the chain of command in each of these

zones, to see if there is any correlation between changes in the command and the

treatment of various segments of the population."

"In many places its a

challenging undertaking because of the huge swathes of cadre killed or

purged.

"In general, outlines of what happened to various groups of

Cambodians have been fairly well examined by previous research.

"Our

objective is to confirm that and obtain more detail and hard, documented

evidence" about KR atrocities, he said.

Etcheson said his biggest

surprise was how much information had never been examined by

scholars.

"Perhaps, in the case of some information, various people and

organizations who had that data were just waiting for the time to release

it.

"They decided that the time was now," Etcheson

said.

Meanwhile, U.S. Secretary of State Warren Christopher took a 20

minute tour of Tuol Sleng last Friday.

Christopher paused briefly in the

rooms where photographs of torture victims line the walls.

In front of a

wall sized map of Cambodia constructed of human skulls, he stopped to make a

brief statement.

"It's horrible. It's beyond belief, man's inhumanity to

man. It's hard to believe that the whole country turned on itself." What the

Khmer Rouge did, he said was terrible.

Later, asked at a press conference

whether the CGP could ever bring the victims of Pol Pot to justice, Christopher

responded that the project was "realistic enough to justify the money we are

putting into it. Obviously there was genocide here. The question is whether or

not evidence can be assembled" to bring the perpetrators to justice, he said.

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