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Logo of Phnom Penh Post newspaper Phnom Penh Post - Potential KR trial witnesses visit courtroom

Potential KR trial witnesses visit courtroom

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potent.jpg

At least 6,000 people from the provinces who suffered during the Pol Pot regime

will have visited Phnom Penh by the end of the year to learn about the

proceedings of the Khmer Rouge Trial, said Youk Chhang, director of the

Documentation Center of Cambodia (DC-Cam).

Michelle Lee, left, at a blessing on March 31 outside the KRT's Extraordinary Chambers in Kambol, Kandal Province.

Chhang said the center has

been inviting victims of the regime to visit and familiarize themselves with the

trial process so that they would not be afraid of giving evidence if called on

to testify by the court.

He said it was very important that those invited

to Phnom Penh should spread information about the trial to their neighbors in

villages and communes so that others could also prepare to participate.

Since February 26, DC-Cam has been inviting 400 to 450 people each month

to visit Toul Sleng museum and Choeung Ek, and to meet members of the National

Assembly who passed the Khmer Rouge Trial law. The guests also meet government

and UN officials in the Khmer Rouge Trial courtroom - known as the Extraordinary

Chambers in the Courts - and the US ambassador.

Chhang said the center

invited people to visit Toul Sleng and Choeung Ek to present a broader view of

history and help them find a path to reconciliation between Khmer Rouge victims

and lower-level officers of the KR regime, many of whom were themselves victims.

The center took the visitors to meet the US ambassador because the United States

supported the participation of the people and wanted them to know that the court

could bring them justice.

"They [surviving victims] are living documents

to give information to the court," Chhang said. "Most of those victims who

participated in the visit will become the witnesses for the trial."

Mom

Phoun, 68, from Tang Krasay village, Brasat Sambo district in Kampong Thom, who

participated in a trip from March 26 to 28, said he was very happy to be a

witness for the Khmer Rouge trial.

"I would like to tell the court about

the truth of the Khmer Rouge regime," he said. "We worked too much but got

little food to eat."

Chhang said the people invited to visit Phnom Penh

were those DC-Cam interviewed nine years ago - and also their neighbors, such as

village and commune chiefs, who often told his center they would like to see the

court but could not afford travel and accommodation.

The visitors have

come from Kampong Cham, Kandal, Kampot, Takeo, Kampong Chhnang, Pursat,

Battambang, Rattanakkiri, Preah Vihear, Kampong Thom, Koh Kong, Kampong Som,

Siem Reap and Banteay Meanchey.

Chhang said each group visit costs the

center between US$4,000 and $5,000 -to cover the cost of travel to Phnom Penh,

food and accommodation. USAID helped with the funding.

Michelle Lee,

deputy director of the UN Khmer Rouge Trial delegation, on March 28 told 412

villagers in the courtroom, "Today, you come from villages, you come from far to

visit us, so that you can see this is where the trial will take

place.

"When you go back to your villages, please tell your friends and

your families [that] we are here, we are serious and we want to help."

Kim Sim, 56, from O'Kavann village, Chamkar Leu district in Kampong

Cham, who also participated in the March 26-28 visit, said it was the first time

she had come to Phnom Penh to visit Toul Sleng museum and other places that

could help to remind her about the Khmer Rouge regime that killed her three

brothers and one sister.

"Yesterday, I felt dizzy and was not hungry at

all after I saw the pictures at Toul Sleng museum," she said on March 28. "It

made me remember what happened in the regime. I would like the trial to start

soon. And I am very happy to be a witness."

Sean Visoth, administrative

director of the Extraordinary Chambers, told the villagers, "Now we do not have

problems with the budget for the Khmer Rouge trial any more. [It is like the]

train that starts going and the plane that starts taking off."

But at

least one of the visitors was dismissive of the trial process. Cheng Eam, 53,

from Chhouk district in Kampot, said the trial was worthless and the money being

spent on it would be better spent on things like building houses for people.

"Every war terrorizes and kills people," Eam said. "War kills people and

genocide kills people. One is the same as the other. Now they have a trial of

the Khmer Rouge. Why don't they have a trial of America? America made more

serious war than the Khmer Rouge in Cambodia. America dropped millions of bombs

on Cambodia. Does that make you frightened or not?"

The law establishing

the Khmer Rouge Trial process confines the courts to trying only crimes

committed by individuals in Cambodia between April 17, 1975 (the day the Khmer

Rouge took power in Phnom Penh) and January 6, 1979 (their last day in power

before Phnom Penh fell to the Vietnamese Army). The court cannot try countries

or organizations that supported the Khmer Rouge regime, nor countries or

individuals for crimes committed before or after those dates.

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