POL POT'S death was preceded by a United States-led push to arrest and send him to
an international court, sparking rumblings that his former followers or the Thai
military, which supported the guerrilla group for years, had murdered Brother No.
1 to keep him silent.
If Pol Pot was indeed killed, the murderers apparently hoped that a fickle international
community would lose interest in a Khmer Rouge trial if the star witness, Pol Pot,
was no longer able to take the stand.
However, continued pressure by foreign governments to arrest surviving members of
the Khmer Rouge inner circle has undoubtedly shaken the hopes of any group or individual
who thought all would be forgotten after Pol Pot's demise.
US President Bill Clinton said on the day following Pol Pot's death that the event
had refocused international attention on Khmer Rouge atrocities and efforts toward
a tribunal for other top KR figures should proceed.
"Although the opportunity to hold Pol Pot accountable for his monstrous crimes
appears to have passed, senior Khmer Rouge, who exercised leadership from 1975 to
1979, are still at large and share responsibility for the monstrous human rights
abuses committed during this period," Clinton said in a statement released by
the White House.
"We must not permit the death of the most notorious of the Khmer Rouge leaders
to deter us from the equally important task of bringing these others to justice,"
At least nine surviving members of the Khmer Rouge inner circle have been identified
by researchers as individuals who at least knew what was happening in 1975-79 and
are now prime suspects for genocide and broader crimes against humanity:
ï Ta Mok, a ruthless top-level military commander during the entire existence of
the Khmer Rouge. Now the leader of the remaining hardliners who deposed Pol Pot from
power last year.
ï Nuon Chea, thought to be Pol Pot's second-in-command during the Democratic Kampuchea
regime of 1975-79.
ï Ieng Sary, deputy prime minister and foreign minister during 1975-79. Now the political
leader of Pailin-based Khmer Rouge who defected to the government in 1996.
ï Khieu Samphan, nominal leader of the Khmer Rouge and a senior political cadre.
He is currently attempting to portray himself as separate from other senior rebels
and the leader of the remaining Khmer Rouge that are in favor of "national reconciliation".
ï Ke Pauk, a zone commander during 1975-79 who is believed to have overseen thousands
of executions. He is now the figurehead of the latest defectors from Anlong Veng.
ï Duch, director of the Tuol Sleng torture center and chief of the Santebal, the
Khmer Rouge secret police.
ï Chan, also known as Mey Mam, the chief interrogator at Tuol Sleng. Both Duch and
Chan are reportedly living in an area controlled by Ieng Sary's Democratic National
ï sisters Khieu Ponnary and Khieu Thirith, wives of Pol Pot and Ieng Sary, respectively,
during 1975-79. Both held high-level positions in the Democratic Kampuchea administration.
"Pol Pot's death is not the end of the genocide chapter, there are others. Pol
Pot alone could not kill over 1 million people," said Youk Chhang, head of the
Documentation Center of Cambodia, the field office for Yale University's Cambodian
Attention has also focused on how suspects could be apprehended and what form a tribunal
Craig Etcheson, formerly of the Cambodian Genocide Program, said that organizing
an international effort to swoop into Cambodia and arrest Khmer Rouge leaders - similar
to the effort to capture war crimes suspects in the former Yugoslavia - would be
a sticky legal matter.
"It is clear that the Kingdom of Cambodia has laws which would authorize the
arrest of Khmer Rouge leaders," Etcheson said. "Some countries, Israel
and Spain coming immediately to mind, assert universal jurisdiction over [those suspected
of] genocide, war crimes and crimes against humanity.
"For other countries, such as the US, the devil is deep in the details of domestic
and international law."
The US State Department, upon passage of the 1994 Cambodian Genocide Act, commissioned
a study on the possibility of bringing Khmer Rouge leaders to trial.
The study, Striving for Justice: Accountability and the Crimes of the Khmer Rouge,
summarized that the arrest of Khmer Rouge leaders would most likely be hindered by
certain nations - Cambodia and Thailand are specifically mentioned - that would be
reluctant to extradite them. "This would suggest the need for international
law enforcement and intelligence cooperation to seize these fugitives," the
The Cambodian government announced after Pol Pot's death its desire for international
help in any effort to apprehend and try Ta Mok, Nuon Chea and Khieu Samphan - all
of whom are still in open conflict with Phnom Penh. But similar support for the arrest
of Ieng Sary or Ke Pauk is unlikely following the defection deals with them that
weakened the guerrilla group and accelerated its collapse.
Especially in the case of the economic powerhouse of Pailin, the government would
be unlikely to risk arresting senior cadre there, according to one senior diplomat,
because it could seriously destabilize the nation if the capture was viewed by Pailin
leaders as a default on their original defection agreement.
Should Ta Mok, Nuon Chea and Khieu Samphan be flushed out by the government army,
Thai Prime Minister Chuan Leekpai has pledged that they will be arrested if they
cross into Thailand.
On April 17 Chuan appeared to suggest that was as much as his nation could help since
Thailand has a policy of non-interference in Cambodia's internal affairs.
But Chuan's words rang hollow on the Thai-Cambodian border where the Thai military
was a constant presence inside Cambodia as the events of Pol Pot's death unfolded.
Non-interference may keep the Thais from arresting rebel leaders on Cambodian soil,
but it did not stop them from arranging media coverage of Pol Pot's corpse and cremation,
taking and hoarding flim-sy forensic evidence or remaining in apparent constant friendly
contact with Pol Pot's KR keepers.
The suspicions surrounding the timing of Pol Pot's passing and the half-hearted Thai
attempt to verify a cause of death also suggests that the possibility of seeing other
Khmer Rouge leaders emerging alive and in custody is remote, at best.
Even if that unlikely event should occur, plenty of work would have to be done to
convene a trial.
Thomas Hammarberg, the United Nations top human rights official for Cambodia, asserted
upon his arrival on April 17 that King Sihanouk, Hun Sen and Prince Ranariddh have
all recently reaffirmed their support for legal action.
Rajsoomer Lallah, the former chief justice of Mauritius, has been named head of a
three-person team that will come to Cambodia to assess the evidence already gathered
against the Khmer Rouge, Hammarberg said.
Possibilities for a Khmer Rouge trial include a UN tribunal similar to those organized
for war criminals in Bosnia and Rwanda - but this would be unlikely if China, another
former supporter of the Khmer Rouge, used its veto power in the UN Security Council.
Another option is for a trial to be held in a third country with laws that would
allow it to try foreign suspects that have committed crimes abroad. Denmark and Canada
are two nations often mentioned that may be able to accommodate such a trial of KR
A third possibility is for the Cambodians themselves to try implicated KR cadre,
an option the 1995 US study said was not preferable because "a generation of
war" has left the Cambodian judiciary "in shambles".
Hammarberg suggested upon his arrival that a hybrid trial could be held on Cambodian
soil upon approval by the National Assembly. Judges and court staff would be mostly
international, under this arrangement, and both Cambodian and international law would
be considered during the proceedings. (Additional reporting by Reuters)