A day after the Khmer Rouge tribunal publicly disclosed that an arrest warrant for suspect Meas Muth had been ignored by authorities, local officials in Muth’s hometown acknowledged that police had visited the area, but made no attempt to take him into custody.
What’s more, they said, the septuagenarian – who is wanted on accusations of extermination, torture and “other inhumane acts” dating from his time as Khmer Rouge navy commander – should be allowed to keep his freedom in spite of the arrest warrant, which was issued last December by international co-investigating judge Mark Harmon.
Em Sarom, police chief of Ta Sanh commune, where Muth lives, said that he had accompanied four policemen who came from Phnom Penh to speak to villagers about Muth’s potential arrest.
“They’ve come since April, but I don’t know what they were asking, because I didn’t want to interrupt their work. I just know that their questions related to Meas Muth,” he said.
“From my point of view, I think they should let him be free, because the court already got the other two old leaders already,” he added, referring to Case 002 defendants and senior regime members Khieu Samphan and Nuon Chea.
Ta Sanh commune chief Chum Horn had a similar take on the matter.
“I think the court should be stop on Case 002; no need for Cases 003 or 004,” he said. “Meas Muth helps a lot of villagers in the village, especially pagoda. He is also too old.”
In March, some three months after the arrest warrant was issued, Mao Chandara – the tribunal’s chief of security, and the official responsible for the suspects’ arrests – acknowledged having received the arrest warrant, but claimed to need “some time to study it”.
Chandara could not be reached for comment yesterday.
However, in a document explaining Harmon’s decision to charge Muth in absentia – due to the fact that he was not in custody – the judge argues that the failure to arrest Muth is a violation of several laws and court rules establishing judicial police’s obligation to execute court orders.
Case 003 and 004 have been vociferously opposed by the government, including by judge Harmon’s national counterpart, You Bunleng, and Cambodian Justice Initiative program officer Panhavuth Long said yesterday that the authorities’ non-cooperation served as clear evidence of political interference in the court proceedings.
The revelation, he added, should prompt a full re-examination of the law establishing the court.
“In this regard, I think this publication lets you see that no longer can Case 003 go forward without addressing the issue of political pressure, and the Cambodian government needs to honour its agreement with the [tribunal],” he said.
“I think this is also a wake-up call to the special adviser to the tribunal, David Scheffer, who says there is no political influence,” Long added. “I think there is clear influence when local authorities won’t enforce [orders].”