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Logo of Phnom Penh Post newspaper Phnom Penh Post - Trials for Khmer Rouge ever more remote

Trials for Khmer Rouge ever more remote

HOPES that Ta Mok or other Khmer Rouge leaders will ever be tried are fading

rapidly as it becomes clear it is in neither Funcinpec nor CPP's interest to

have the top echelon of the KR speaking in an open forum.

This week's

agreement between Funcinpec and CPP parliamentarians over a legal amendment

allowing up to three years' detention without trial for people charged with

genocide or crimes against humanity scuttled plans for a trial this

month.

It had been announced last week by Mok's lawyer, Benson Samay,

that a trial, under 1994 anti-KR legislation, would be held before September

6.

Under Cambodian law Mok had to have been tried within six months of

arrest and charges having been laid: September 6 is that deadline.

Now he

will need to be charged with genocide or crimes against humanity so that he can

be held past that date.

The abandonment of the trial will come as a

relief to both CPP and Funcinpec.

Government sources and those close to

the investigation confirmed that Mok had given detailed information about his

dealings with Funcinpec both before and after the July 1997 coup.

Hun Sen

adviser Om Yieng Teng said that Mok had implicated a number of people, many of

whom would be worried.

"I think Prince Ranariddh and Nhek Bun Chhay have

amnesties but other people do not," he said, referring to the King's pardon for

Ranariddh and Bun Chhay following their conviction on weapons-importing charges

last year.

Benson Samay put it more poetically when speaking of the 70 to

80 witnesses/co-defendants who would be called if a trial went ahead, saying

they would range "from princes to peasants".

No-one is saying

specifically what Mok has told investigators, but one source said he has

outlined contact between Funcinpec before and after July 1997.

He said

that Mok had said the contact was much more clandestine before the July coup.

When asked what the contact involved, the contact said "money, guns and men",

but he refused to be more specific, saying it was too politically

sensitive.

There has been no indication if any of this information was

embarrassing to the CPP, which also had contact with the KR at that

time.

Mok's information has given Hun Sen a powerful weapon to hold over

his Funcinpec coalition partners.

For Funcinpec members individually, Mok's

revelations are career-wrecking at best, and at worst could result in criminal

charges being brought.

Under the law from 1994, supporting or cooperating

with the Khmer Rouge is considered a crime equal to being a member of the

movement. It carries the same penalty of 20 to 30 years of imprisonment or a

lifetime sentence.

For Hun Sen, the situation is perfect as is. So long

as the threat remains, Funcinpec are hamstrung and he and the CPP have complete

power.

If any trial goes ahead, he loses that advantage unless he can

completely control the evidence that the court hears.

Some analysts are

further lowering expectations of whether a Khmer Rouge tribunal will ever spring

into existence at all.

Says one longtime observer: "The UN cannot set up

a trial without the consent of the Cambodian government.

"The Cambodians

have already rejected the first proposal for an international tribunal, and I

don't believe the UN will make a third try if Hun Sen turns down the outline of

this mixed tribunal - which one might fear that he will."

The decision to

amend the law to delay this month's trial did not have Funcinpec's support

initially.

But Samay's comments about which witnesses would be called,

and allusions by other people to the implications to Funcinpec, soon brought

them into line.

One government source said that Mok is in a no-win

position and this scared Funcinpec into agreement.

"Funcinpec politicians

were worried that Ta Mok still has a few cards up his sleeve and that he would

implicate them. They became very nervous about this.

"Ta Mok has nothing

to lose. He can implicate whoever he wants and it doesn't even have to be

true."

Analysts point out that contacts between the Khmer Rouge and

Funcinpec during the post-coup period are already well-documented therefore

Mok's revelations must contain sensitive or embarrassing information about

events before that time.

Senator Kem Sokha explains that some Funcinpec

lawmakers feared that the court case against Mok would be used as a political

instrument, allowing the government to accuse and prosecute anybody it saw

fit.

"If the courts were independent, there would be no problem in trying

Ta Mok under the law banning the Khmer Rouge.

But the courts are not

independent, so many Funcinpec politicians prefer to wait for an international

tribunal," he says.

CPP lawmaker and member of the party's steering

committee Cheam Yeap said that Prime Minister Hun Sen had no input into the law

change.

Nevertheless, Hun Sen was quick to speak out against a Mok trial

under the 1994 law when it popped up on the horizon, stating that it could

reveal information embarrassing to leading political figures and neighboring

Thailand.

Some analysts see this as yet another sign of the Prime

Minister's reluctance to put former Khmer Rouge on trial.

Meanwhile,

prosecutors are still awaiting the legal UN experts that are supposed to help

draw the legal foundation for a mixed Cambodian/international Khmer Rouge

tribunal.

Their arrival was postponed from June to early August, but at

Post printing time there was still no certain date of arrival.

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