K ING Norodom Sihanouk has distanced himself from the amnesty given to Khmer Rouge
breakaway leader Ieng Sary, reaffirming that the pardon is invalid without the approval
of two thirds of the National Assembly.
In a Sept 17 Royal statement, the King said he signed the amnesty because the Prime
Ministers were in a hurry to have the pardon ratified and were against a National
Assembly debate on the issue.
"I repeat that the Kret amnestying Mr. Ieng Sary, according to my verbal request,
should be made public and enforceable only after obtaining the official approval
in writing of two thirds of the members of the National Assembly," the statement
read, according to an unofficial translation.
"The two Samdech Prime Ministers of the Royal Cambodian Government... pronounced
themselves in front of me [to be] against debate within the National Assembly on
the subject of this amnesty. I replied to them that simple individual motions addressed
by our deputies to King Norodom Sihanouk would suffice.
"It is, therefore, not my fault if things did not happen as I had announced
to the Cambodian Nation and the international community."
Within hours of the King signing the amnesty decree, copies of the document were
freely circulated by both Prime Ministers, without the signatures of National Assembly
members having been sent to the King.
However, observers suggest any vote by the National Assembly would have reflected
the will of the Prime Ministers in any event.
According to one diplomatic source a CPP party meeting held September 14 at the Apsara
television station agreed - "eventually" - that an amnesty for Sary was
Funcinpec President and First Prime Minister Prince Norodom Ranariddh told the Post
that 48 of the party's 58 MPs had agreed to amnestying Sary before the official pardon
was presented to the palace for the King's signature.
At press time, however, the King had told diplomats he had been formerly informed
of less than 10 signatures of MPs.
Meanwhile - according to one ambassador - the international community in Phnom Penh
has reacted to the pardon with "stunned silence."
The source said there was "some disappointment" among diplomats in Cambodia
that the decision to grant Ieng Sary amnesty was not the subject of wider debate.
He said, however, the international community would accept the decision as there
continued to be widespread support for the peace process.
But, he added, there was significant concern that the KR - if permitted to rejoin
politics - posed a potential threat to regional peace in the future and could create
divisions within Asean.
"The Asean nations have a lot of experience in working through the fall-out
of communist insurgencies and the experience of post-communism throughout the world
indicates a [trend of] abandoning communist ideology," the diplomat said.
"However, the xenophobia of the Khmer Rouge is unique and anti-Vietnamese feeling
is very strong in Cambodia - the KR's anti-Vietnamese position could be attractive
to the electorate.
"But just what is the consequence of the KR in politics - politically, do they
stand for anything more than kicking the Vietnamese?"
Despite such private concerns, no foreign country has officially criticized the granting
of amnesty. Even the United States - which has funded the Cambodian Genocide Program
investigating crimes against humanity under the 1975-79 Pol Pot regime - has resisted
making any statement except to say the issue is a "Cambodian affair'.
But, increasingly, it appears the Royal pardon granted to Ieng Sary does not grant
him total immunity from prosecution.
The amnesty decree pardons Sary from a death sentence handed down to him after an
in absentia trial in 1979 after the Vietnamese invasion of Cambodia, and also gave
him an amnesty from legislation passed in 1994 outlawing the KR. It says nothing
about future trials about crimes against humanity during the Pol Pot regime.
In a letter to the human rights group Amnesty International - in response to
its opposition to any pardon for Sary - the King unequivocally supported any future
trial of Khmer Rouge leaders.
"If, one day, an international tribunal convenes... to judge Mr. Pol Pot, Ieng
Sary, Ta Mok, Khieu Samphan, Nuon Chea, Son Sen, and other notorious Khmer Rouges,
I would support, as a Cambodian citizen, this trial and its judgment," the letter
In a September 17 interview with the Post Ranariddh said: " I think the amnesty
will not prevent Mr Ieng Sary or Pol Pot - Pol Pot in particular - [from] being prosecuted."
The Prince said: "I think the amnesty will not protect Mr. Ieng Sary from prosecution
by the international tribunal...," but he noted that Sary had publicly claimed
to have evidence proving his innocence of crimes during the Pol Pot regime.
Second Prime Minister Hun Sen, in a speech delivered at the Royal School of Administration
Sept 16, also did not rule out a future trial of Sary.
"Amnesty for Ieng Sary has not hampered investigations into the crime of genocide
and the process of [setting up an] international tribunal at all... we have not kicked
it aside," Hun Sen said.
Additionally, a number of MPs from across the political spectrum said they supported
the amnesty but would also support Sary's prosecution if evidence implicated him
in crimes against the Cambodian people.
Parliamentarian Im Sethy (CPP) said: "If they find evidence linking Ieng Sary
to the crimes, he must be punished. All we've done is annul the verdict made against
him in 1979. When the tribunal is created, no-one escapes - we can't let two million
lives be meaningless..."
Funcinpec MP Nuon Ninara expressed similar sentiments. "I support a tribunal
if Ieng Sary is implicated in crimes [during the KR regime]. This amnesty does not