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Logo of Phnom Penh Post newspaper Phnom Penh Post - "Irresponsible" and "baseless" anti-Hun Sen campaign hits US Congress

"Irresponsible" and "baseless" anti-Hun Sen campaign hits US Congress

A VIRULENT anti-Hun Sen campaign reached the floor of the

US Congress last week, charging the Prime Minister-elect

with "genocide" and other crimes under Pol

Pot's Democratic Kampuchea regime.

Congressman Dana Rohra-bacher's House Resolution 553 has

polarized opinion in Cambodia.

Unsurprisingly, the opposition has thrown its weight

behind the resolution. Opposition leader Sam Rainsy is

due in Washington today (Oct 1) to testify in favor of

the resolution.

But the government and many Cambodian scholars have

criticized the paper one scholar calling it

"dangerous" and two others describing it as

"baseless in fact or law".

Rohrabacher, a close supporter of Rainsy, is seeking

"the indictment of Hun Sen for genocide and crimes

against humanity before an international tribunal."

While the UN is preparing to organize an international

tribunal to hold the Khmer Rouge leadership accountable

for the deaths of about 1.7 million Cambodians under the

Pol Pot regime, Rohra-bacher has continued to gun for

Cambodia's second prime minister, who was a junior Khmer

Rouge commander at the time.

It is understood that there is no official US government

support for Rohrabacher.

But the resolution has delighted many of Hun Sen's

opposition, both here and abroad.

Prince Norodom Ranariddh's Cabinet chief, Kong Vibol,

said: "We support [the resolution] because Hun Sen

is a second Pol Pot."

He clarified it: "We think he should stand trial. He

kills monks, he was a Khmer Rouge commander, he killed so

many people... the grenade attack, and the recent

crackdown on peaceful demonstrations."

Human rights lawyer Brad Adams, however, condemned

Rohrabacher's resolution as "extremely irresponsible

and dangerous to the interests of establishing a tribunal

[for the trial of the Khmer Rouge leadership limited to

the period of 1975-79]."

Cambodian scholars, investigators and journalists have so

far failed to uncover any evidence to implicate Hun Sen

for crimes committed under the DK regime, or to justify

bringing him to an international tribunal.

Historical records shows that Hun Sen was one of the

first to defy orders of the Pol Pot regime. Instead he

fled to Vietnam and organized resistance from there in

mid-1977.

In an "Open Letter to the US Congress" two

academics specializing in Cambodia, Steve Heder and Craig

Etcheson, responded to Rohrabacher's accusations:

"Calls to indict Hun Sen for genocide and war crimes

have no basis in fact or law.

"No credible documentation or oral testimony has

ever been uncovered to substantiate such charges,"

they said, "and the specific allegations that have

been made public to support them have proved

groundless."

Khmer Rouge military chief Ta Mok seemed to be the first

who canvassed the possibility of putting Hun Sen on trial

together with Pol Pot, when the former "Brother No.

1" was still alive.

After Pol Pot's ouster and show-trial in July 1997 there

was talk of handing Pol Pot over to the international

community. Ta Mok, however, insisted that such a deal was

contingent on the "arrest of Hun Sen, the yuon

puppet" and his arraignment with Pol Pot at an

International Tribunal.

Pol Pot has died but Mok's proposal to put Hun Sen on

trial has not. The post-election protests resulted in a

chorus of opposition outrage against Hun Sen, alternately

demanding that he resign or be arrested. Rainsy,

Funcinpec spokesmen, "Democracy Square"

orators, and leaders of student demonstrations called for

the either "the US or the UN to arrest Hun

Sen."

While Heder and Etcheson agree that a "prima facie

case may exist to implicate Hun Sen" in serious

human rights violations between 1985 until now, they also

argue that "as egregious as these human rights

crimes may be, they do not cross the threshold into

genocide, crimes against humanity or war crimes as

defined in international law".

"It is a disservice to the rule of law and truth to

make baseless or grossly exaggerated allegations to

achieve a political end," they said.

Heder, who lectures in politics at the London School of

African and Oriental Studies (SOAS), has previously

worked for Amnesty International and in UNTAC's

peacekeeping mission in Cambodia, is a known critic of

the Hun Sen government's human rights abuses.

Two US radio stations VOA (Khmer language service) and

Radio Free Asia have devoted much air-time to

Rohrabacher's small coterie of fellow congressmen, and

many Cambodian listeners assume that they speak for the

US government.

Their frequent statements calling for the arrest of Hun

Sen has convinced thousands in Phnom Penh and in the

provinces that Washington is about to send troops and

arrest the Cambodian prime minister.

Both the UN and the US embassy in Phnom Penh have issued

denials that they are somehow supporting the

post-election demonstrations.

Kenneth Quinn, the US ambassador in Phnom Penh, is

reported to have engaged in heated exchanges with Sam

Rainsy and his wife Samaura over their claims which they

later watered down as being made in the heat of the

moment that Washington was ready to send missiles or the

US marines to topple Hun Sen.

According to one source who overheard a telephone

conversation between the US ambassador and Samaura, a

newly-elected member of the National Assembly, questions

were asked about why would Washington "not arrest

Hun Sen for terrorism" when it had intervened

elsewhere, as with President Noriega in Pan-ama?

The source said that Quinn's irate response did not

endear him to Rainsy faithful.

Quinn declined to comment on recent events, although the

embassy had previously issued a statement strongly

denying any intention to send missiles to attack

Cambodia, a suggestion Rainsy had made in one earlier

speech to protesters.

Adams is concerned that "attempts to bring Hun Sen

to an International Tribunal will undermine [the

tribunal's] credibility [and] discourage Cambodian

government cooperation".

Hun Sen's CPP largely shares the same misconceptions

about American foreign policy, along with many RFA and

VOA listeners.

Twenty-six National Assembly members from the CPP have

recently sent their own joint letter of protest to the US

Congress about the Rohrabacher resolution, pointing out

that many Cambodians are grateful to Hun Sen and other

leaders who cooperated with Vietnam in 1979 "to save

them from the genocide regime".

An opinion poll survey conducted after the July election

on CPP voters established that most of their support (as

opposed to votes garnered from inducements, bribes or

intimidation) was anchored around this sense of

historical debt to the party linked to the 1979

liberation from Pol Pot.

Rohrabacher's moves "could make Hun Sen nervous

about a US plot to get him," some human rights

advocates argue, given a long record of US hostility

toward Cambodia during the 1980s, when the West

recognized the DK's Ieng Sary rather than Hun Sen and his

Vietnamese-backed government.

Hun Sen has often said to his critics that he has no

objection to any investigation looking into his own

activities while he was with the Khmer Rouge.

Three judicial experts appointed by the UN

Secretary-General were due to arrive in Cambodia on Sept

1 to review the evidence of Khmer Rouge genocide and

discuss the feasibility for a trial, including its format

and composition.

However, the post-election street protests and disorder

forced them to postpone until Nov14th.

Rosemary McCreery, the head of the UN human rights

office, said that "Hun Sen and senior members of his

government have confirmed their commitment to a tribunal

several times in the last few months.

"As far as I know nothing has changed but we have to

reschedule the appointments with the three judges."

An International Trubunal covering the period of the Pol

Pot regims from 1975-79 is seen by many observers

performing not only a landmark role in jurisprudence and

judgment of one of the world's most evil regime, but also

an educational function in uncovering the true history of

that period.

When the history comes to be written, Adams told the Post

that "in any book Pol Pot would be in the same

league as Hitler and Stalin, but Hun Sen is just a

footnote among world dictators".

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