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Logo of Phnom Penh Post newspaper Phnom Penh Post - RGC stands firm on local trial

RGC stands firm on local trial

HOPES for an international trial for Khmer Rouge leaders appeared to be dashed for

good this week, although private lobbying may continue.

The government, which remains publicly committed to a domestic trial for captured

Khmer Rouge leader Ta Mok, effectively called an international tribunal a pipe dream.

"Please do not dream," said Om Yienting, a top adviser to Prime Minister

Hun Sen, at a Mar 29 seminar on KR accountability.

"Do you wait for the rains to come, or use existing water in the container?"

Yienting asked.

"Now we have existing courts in the country, why not make use of those courts?"

Asked by a conference participant why the government was going "against the

will of the people" by ruling out an international trial, an agitated Yienting

demanded: "Why are you so obsessed with the trial of Khmer Rouge leaders? We

have to make sure we do not use trials to revenge [ourselves against] the Khmer Rouge."

He also hinted at the issues which could come up in a Mok trial: "There are

other people who were on the side of the KR, both inside and outside the country,"

he noted, asking, "Where did Ta Mok get his ammunition? ... What did [KR leader]

Khieu Samphan sign in 1997 and with whom did he sign it?"

United Nations human rights envoy Thomas Hammar-berg, who has been in the forefront

of the push for an international tribunal, met with Hun Sen and justice officials

on Mar 25 to "clarify the official Cambodian position".

Hun Sen released a new letter to UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan just hours before

his meeting with Hammarberg; the Prime Minister's letter seemingly left little for

the two to talk about.

"[A]n existing national tribunal of Cambodia should take up the case to charge

and convict Ta Mok and other Khmer Rouge leaders if found guilty of crimes of genocide

committed in Cambodia...", the Mar 24 letter reads, adding that Cambodia "welcomes

the assistance in terms of legal experts from foreign countries".

In a pre-meeting press conference, Hammarberg had expressed puzzlement about the

govern-ment's stance, noting that Hun Sen had written to the UN in Jun 97 asking

for assistance in bringing the KR to justice and admitting Cambodian courts were

not up to the standard required.

Yienting admitted that Hun Sen had changed his position due to Mok's arrest and the

collapse of the KR.

"Before the complete dissolution of the KR infrastructure, that was another

problem," he explained at the seminar. "Before the arrest of Ta Mok, there

was still a possibility of the international tribunal."

Following his three-hour meeting, with Hun Sen, Hammarberg was tight-lipped about

the discussion, although he characterized it as "civilized" at a Mar 26

press conference.

He said he would report back to Annan before revealing the substance of the discussions,

but noted that Hun Sen was firm on rejecting both an international trial and a truth

commission.

"I don't want to express pessimism or optimism," Hammarberg said.

Asked if he thought the government position was final, he said: "I honestly

don't know ... the dialogue is now between the prosecutor and whoever represents

the [UN] member states."

The United States is reportedly trying to lobby veto-wielding China to reconsider

its opposition to a UN Security Council-formed tribunal.

At the same time, the Americans are trying to gather together international backers

to persuade Hun Sen to change his mind, according to Phnom Penh diplomats.

Rights groups, Hammarberg himself, and local lawyers have all slammed the Cambodian

court system, calling it politically influenced, corrupt and too weak to provide

fair trials even in ordinary criminal cases - much less in Mok's.

"I think that the Cambodian court has no power, and no justice in that case,"

said one local lawyer, who asked not to be named. "When the court is not neutral

or independent, how can it try [to give Mok a fair trial]?" asked another local

attorney, stressing a preference for an international trial.

"It would show that even after 20 years, the offenders cannot escape from justice."

Yienting dismissed concerns of the non-independence of courts. "We are not one

hundred percent perfect, but we have strictly followed the big principles. If you

think the [executive and judicial] branches are not separate. . . then Cambodia would

be a communist country."

Ang Eng Thong, president of the Cambodian Bar Association, reiterated his position

that Cambodian courts are ill-equipped to deal with Mok's trial at the NGO seminar.

He noted that there is no domestic law against either genocide or crimes against

humanity - international charges often levied against the Khmer Rouge - leaving only

smaller, less severe charges available to a domestic prosecutor.

"If we try the KR in the country, we can accuse them of destroying public security,

creating autonomous regions, killing people, fighting against the Royal Government,"

he said at the NGO seminar.

"But the crimes committed by the KR are more serious, that is, genocide and

the terrible mistreatment of Cambodians, systematic killings. This falls into the

category of crimes against humanity."

In response to a similar comment at the seminar, Yienting said: "Your concern

is justified. But. . . you attack the court before the ruling is passed; it's still

premature."

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