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Logo of Phnom Penh Post newspaper Phnom Penh Post - New venue proposed for KR Tribunal is superior, but fears of a military presence remain pervasive

New venue proposed for KR Tribunal is superior, but fears of a military presence remain pervasive

New venue proposed for KR Tribunal is superior, but fears of a military presence remain pervasive

venue.jpg
venue.jpg

Aproposal to move the Khmer Rouge tribunal to an army base outside Phnom Penh

has sparked fears a military presence will intimidate witnesses and scare away

visitors.

Prime Minister Hun Sen has suggested that the theater complex at the High Command Headquarters, pictured, would be a better venue for the KR Tribunal.

The new venue, The High Command Headquarters of the Royal

Cambodian Armed Forces, is situated just before the toll gates on National Road

4, about 16.5 kms from the city, and its accessibility has also raised

concerns.

Chaktomuk Theatre and the National Cultural Centre in central

Phnom Penh were the original venues chosen to hold the tribunal and its

offices.

Kek Galabru, president of local human rights group Licadho, said

it would be difficult for witnesses and family members of the victims to feel

safe attending a trial where military personnel may be present, and this could

discourage them from testifying.

"People feel safer at a theater in the

city. I would like to go, but I would be scared out there, too," Galabru said.

"You take off a lot of opportunity to get the truth.

... Cambodians are so

afraid of the military police, or soldiers, because they aren't there to protect

you."

The extra distance would also cost people more money and take more

time to reach, she said.

The Cambodian Human Rights Action Committee, a

coalition of 18 local organizations, would make a statement airing their

concerns if the new venue was confirmed, Galabru said.

Kong Kimsenn, 53,

a Sam Rainsy Party activist, said she would prefer the tribunal be held at

Chaktomuk. "It is closer to my home, and it is safer," she said. "If the

military police want to stop people for some reason, nobody would know about it

out there."

Not everyone agrees. Duy Vuthy, 40, a wheel-chair-bound

seller who listens to the radio every day to hear updates on the tribunal's

progress, said if public participation is allowed he would go to either

venue.

"If it happens and we are allowed to go, I will go wherever and by

whatever means it takes to see the trial," he said.

Helen Jarvis, an

advisor to the government on the KR trial, said Prime Minister Hun Sen suggested

the venue change after attending the opening of new headquarters in

November.

The headquarters is set on a large block of dusty land

south-west of Pochentong airport on National Highway 4. There are three separate

buildings: the front building is presently used as administration offices of the

RCAF; a large, unoccupied rectangular office block sits to its right; and a

theater complex is at the back.

The theater, which is used for military

meetings, would be used as the KR tribunal courtroom.

Tea Banh, the

Co-minister of National Defence, said there are only office staff there at the

moment and no weapons are stored at the site, but he was unsure if the military

would move out if the tribunal were held there.

Following Hun Sen's

suggestion, a technical team made of United Nations and local experts analysed

the site in December. In January, Philip Mitnick, a facilities expert from the

International Criminal Tribunal of the Former Yugoslavia, also came to inspect

and approve the site.

The proposal now awaits approval from the UN in New

York.

Jarvis expects that many Cambodians will probably rely on radio and

television to follow the proceedings and said the new headquarters would be

better equipped to support a large media presence.

Other logistical

advantages included the fact that the court and offices would be on a single

site, computers could be more easily networked and enough offices already exist

at the headquarters, saving an estimated $1 million in renovations that were

needed for Chaktomuk, according to Jarvis.

She said security would also

be stronger with the absence of other buildings nearby, and Phnom Penh could

retain use of its cultural centres and avoid disruption to city traffic for the

expected three-year duration of the trial.

Youk Chhang, director of the

Documentation Centre of Cambodia, agreed that the location is technically more

suitable for the tribunal but said the military presence must be

discreet.

"People are afraid of men in uniform. It's threatening," Youk

said. "There should be no military uniforms in the court room, but all of this

can be regulated."

"I think the military would be very, very careful," he

added.

Youk said he has suggested that the tribunal taskforce organize a

tour to the venue, inviting NGOs, ambassadors, media, military staff and others

to visit, and then have open discussions about their concerns or

suggestions.

"This should be done before it is finalized, [so] people can

have input. And then before you move forward, those doubts can be erased or

changes implemented," he said.

In response, Sean Visoth, the executive

secretary to the tribunal taskforce, said he would like to organize a tour of

the venue and would work out an appropriate date after discussing the details

with the military command.

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