THIS WEEK IN HISTORY
Vol. 10, No 17
August 17 - 30 2001
KING Norodom Sihanouk wasted no time in signing the Khmer Rouge tribunal law last week, five years after the defection of former KR foreign minister Ieng Sary. That event heralded the end of the movement as a political force.
The King's signature paves the way for the trial of those alleged responsible for torture and killings committed during the 1975-79 Democratic Kampuchea regime.
While the UN, donors and NGOs responded with cautious optimism at the announcement, some warned that the proposed trial faced a range of obstacles before it gains UN support.
However, Minister for the Council of Ministers Sok An told reporters that the government wanted to expedite the process and said he expected to meet UN chief legal counsel Hans Corell in Phnom Penh in September.
"We sent a letter to Corell stating that we have no intention of delaying the trial. We are waiting on him for discussions on how cooperation should be organised," said Sok An.
Prime Minister Hun Sen's adviser, Om Yentieng, highlighted the urgency of arranging the trial before Ta Mok, a former commander, and Duch, former head of S-21, had to be released. The men are due to be freed in March and May next year respectively, when their three-year legal detention periods end.
However, analysts said that the men could still be charged with other offenses and believed the UN would not be pressured by their release dates.
US Ambassador Kent Wiedemann agreed that the deadline was not a major stumbling block.
Sok An's meeting with Corell could be delayed, however. Earlier this week Corell said that agreement on the memorandum of understanding might have to wait since he was engaged in negotiations for a similar trial in Sierra Leone.
Meanwhile, Prime Minister Hun Sen, in his first speech on the topic since the King signed the law, emphasised the limited nature of the prosecutions and said former KR commanders had nothing to fear from a tribunal.
"Charges will only be brought against the 10 or more who were most responsible during the DK regime. It is not necessary for you to go back to the jungle and protect your people," the Prime Minister said at a bridge opening ceremony in Pursat this week.