Marcel Lemonde and his colleague Yun Bun Leng in Pailin last week.
Pailin-Two Khmer Rouge Tribunal judges came for the first time to the dusty former
home base of the Khmer Rouge -now a quiet farming town-to find witnesses for the
court, but the welcome they received was less than enthusiastic.
The town close to the Thai border was home to four of the five former Khmer Rouge
leaders currently awaiting trial in jail in Phnom Penh. Several former Khmer Rouge
members told the Post that they were skeptical of the process and they didn't know
whether they should cooperate or not.
"I don't know what is going on. The village chief asked me to come to the pagoda
without telling me in detail," said Hun Seoun, 55. He said he joined the Khmer
Rouge in 1970 as a solider and was ordered to protect the sea border in Sihanoukville.
"I dare not say who is right or wrong. I am not interested in the tribunal because
I don't understand what is going on. What I have to worry about is making a living
from day to day."
The judges held two meetings, first with provincial government officials and the
armed forces, and later with villagers, many of whom were also once members of the
The judges told the people they needed their cooperation in order to fulfill the
court's mandate to try the senior leaders of the Khmer Rouge.
Asked whether the provincial government officials seemed enthusiastic or indifferent,
the tribunal international judge Marcel Lemonde said, "Something in between.
But they were interested."
Deputy Governor Tat So Hum, who is a newcomer to Pailin and not former Khmer Rouge,
said many people in Pailin viewed the figures from their home town with fondness.
"The people here do feel regret over the arrest of Khieu Sampan," he said.
"These leaders are like their father. It is the same for Nuon Chea," he
said. "All of them are their leaders, their father."
Some sounded like defense witnesses.
Uk Soth, 53, said he was interested in the outcome of the trials because he hoped
to see the five KR leaders released from prison and freed.
He said he spent his KR years in Kratie. "Within my region it was good. People
had enough food to eat. I believed that the leaders of the KR did not know about
the killing. Myself, I have never seen the killing.
"If I were a witness I would tell the court what I knew in that time, that Noun
Chea, Khieu Samphan and Ieng Sary and Ieng Thirith were good leaders in that time.
I want to protect them and want to see them released from prison."
Others said they were not interested.
Villagers who attended a meeting with KR tribunal judges, remain wary about the entire process.
Vey Vy, 50, said he has never heard of the tribunal, "No I will not participate
with the tribunal as a witness because I have to take care of my corn farm. If I
think about the tribunal I will have no food to eat," he said.
Still others said they were not invited or afraid to attend the hearings but were
Van Dara, the outspoken deputy chief for Pailin of the Sam Rainsy Party, said she
was not invited to attend the meeting and although she would like to go, she didn't
because she would be accused of "trying to get votes from the public."
She said she would like to volunteer to be a witness for the court but that her political
activities prohibit her from getting involved. "I want to go. I cannot because
I am a politician."
Lor Thon, now a second deputy of the Ta Vao commune in the province, said he was
a former filmmaker in the Ministry of Propaganda for Pol Pot from 1975-1979. He said
he would be a witness if asked. "If they come ask me I will do it." Thon
said during the Pol Pot time his job was producing propaganda for consumption both
inside and outside Cambodia. He said he had to flee Phnom Penh in Jan 7, 1979 and
since then has lived in Pailin.
Radio Pailin owner Kun Lung a former Khmer Rouge Radio broadcaster, said the judges'
efforts to round up support for the tribunal was a good idea, but few people came
"We didn't have enough time to spread our information to the villages."
For much of the Khmer Rouge era he worked closely with Pol Pot producing propaganda
broadcasts and providing him with news summaries. He said he didn't know what he
would do if approached by investigators.