FOREIGN diplomats are publicly adopting a "wait and see" attitude to the
prospect of the Khmer Rouge joining Cambodia's political process, but at least one
has privately predicted Cambodia's international isolation if the KR is allowed a
political role in the future.
Khmer Rouge dissidents loyal to Ieng Sary have asked Phnom Penh to participate in
the 1998 national elections in the wake of the split between "moderates"
and ideological hardliners.
On August 15 Second Prime Minister Hun Sen offered at a speech in Kandal "...
to guarantee the life of Ieng Sary, the security of Ieng Sary... [I] praise him and
encourage him to link all his forces with our forces."
This prompted several members of the National Assembly to support the entry of the
KR into politics as a step toward national reconcilliation.
One diplomatic source, who spoke to the Post on condition of anonymity, said however
the policies of the Khmer Rouge leadership remained outside the realm of acceptable
conduct and their inclusion in politics would harm Cambodia's attempts to integrate
with the world.
"The KR are so untrustworthy and evil that any inclusion in Cambodia's political
structure would be suicidal for the country.
"The international response to a Khmer Rouge invited into the government would
be very bad... I think what you would see from most donor countries is a sort of
cold, unspoken disengagement, in much the same way as has occurred in countries like
Liberia and Somalia.
"We are not just talking about the events of the 1970's," the source said,
"but the KR's boycott of the election process, the putting a price on the heads
of foreign nationals, the kidnappings, hostage taking and massacres since.
"In terms of Cambodia's own self respect, the leadership must take a stand on
KR atrocities. If they show the world that anything can be forgotten and forgiven,
it's not a very positive signal..."
However, and despite some support to "forgive and forget", it appears that
Hun Sen's offer to Ieng Sary may have been made without consulting many CPP and Funcinpec
In an interview conducted with the Post approximately six weeks ago, CPP Interior
Minister, Sar Kheng, unequivocally rejected any future political role for the KR
"Armed struggle is one thing, crimes against humanity are another," Sar
Kheng said, making a clear distinction between KR fighters and it's political elite.
In his public statements, First Prime Minister Prince Norodom Ranarridh, has consistently
stated his personal opposition to allow Ieng Sary and other KR leaders back into
However, speaking at a human rights training graduation ceremony in Phnom Penh on
August 17, Ranarridh said the decision on exactly which KR members would be welcomed
back was one he could not make alone.
"It is my personal opinion that the Prime Minister alone can not make this decision...I
believe the National Assembly, which represents the people, should take this case
up and should make the decision.
"If anyone wants to promote peace and prosperity and participate in the development
of the country, they have to come under the legal framework...
"We should not forget that the National Assembly has adopted legislation [outlawing
the KR]... well, the Prime Minister can not bypass such a law. If they [the KR] want
to discuss and negotiate, we have to do it properly, without the [legal] framework
we can not do it."
Speaking to reporters later the same morning Ranarridh again made the distinction
between middle and low ranking members of the Khmer Rouge and its senior military
and political leadership.
"Ieng Sary- a lover of liberal democracy? I do not believe it! Ieng Sary is
70 years old, he has denied Cambodia all his life. He will not change at the age
"It is not only a matter of the KR going to join with the Royal Government,
but of Ta Mok, Pol Pot, Son Sen against Ieng Sary. We should let them fight among
Khmer Institute for Democracy Executive Director, Dr Lao Mong Hay, said even junior
members of the Khmer Rouge hierarchy should not become political figures and a group
of about two hundred top political cadre, regional and field commanders from the
Pol Pot period should go to trial.
"Other, lower ranked people, are [already] free to defect and join any political
party. Whether they are assets or liabilities is up to those parties to decide.
"[But] the KR leadership should answer their crimes first before being allowed
to participate in the political life of Cambodia.
"Democracy... allows people to have their verdict [through elections] on the
Khmer Rouge, but the KR were allowed that chance [in 1993]... but they didn't take
it, they boycotted it, they caused havoc and they have continued their crimes.
"The prospect of them causing trouble directly or indirectly [if allowed to
run a party] is high..."
US-funded Cambodian Genocide Program (CGP) manager Craig Etcheson and other observers
said they would be extremely surprised if the Royal Government, assuming the KR leadership
can be arrested, abandoned its stated objective to bring them to trial.
"I think the co-PM's have made this strategy quite explicit - at a legal conference
in Phnom Penh last August [both] said they wanted to bring the people that dreamed
up that nightmare [the regime of 1975 to 1979] to justice.
"The Cambodian leadership has consistently said the "little people"
in the Khmer Rouge are welcome to rejoin Cambodian society, but they want to prosecute
the intellectual authors [of the KR's "agrarian revolution"].
"...this question has been the subject of very intense discussion for about
a year...but there appears to be a very strong consensus to prosecute across the
entire government," Etcheson said.
"We are a very long way from reaching a point where we can say there is no political
will [to prosecute]. All the senior government officials we have talked to are extremely
However, he added there was a strong international consensus that war crimes, genocide
and crimes against humanity anywhere in the world should not go unpunished.
"It is embodied in US law that the United States will support [Cambodian] efforts
to bring to justice those accused of war crimes or genocide in Cambodia. [But] if
there are no efforts, I suspect there will be no support.
"Conversely, if the Cambodians demonstrate they want to do something, then I
think they will get widespread support."
Etcheson said the CGP had worked hard not to express any opinion or preference for
any particular legal option.
"There are advantages and disadvantages to any option and all of them are complex.
If you are going to set up an international tribunal similar to the one in the Hague,
many technical and political prerequisites need to be satisfied.
"For example, in the case of Rwanda and Bosnia, tribunals were set up under
the UN Security Council's power to deal with threats to international peace... it's
difficult to demonstrate that the current situation in Cambodia is a threat to international
peace," he said.
• MEANWHILE, on August 9 the CGP completed phase two of a training program for Cambodian
officials, and will continue to gather evidence which would be made available to
any legal proceedings against the Khmer Rouge leadership.
While unwilling to discuss specific cases, Etcheson said the CGP had discovered much
more evidence than has already been published.
"We have come across the archives of the KR secret police and we know exactly
what they did - chains of command, who ordered what - they kept astonishingly careful
The CGP has been gathering evidence since December 1994 and began training Cambodian
officials in international criminal and humanitarian law last year.
In the three months to June 1995, the CGP conducted intensive training for 17 officials
in the legal basis of war crimes, genocide and crimes against humanity - as well
as the legal framework for truth commissions, domestic and international tribunals.
"We looked at Nuremberg, Tokyo, the International Military Tribunal at the Hague
for Bosnia and Rwanda, the Truth Commission in South Africa - we pretty well covered
all examples of what is known in the business as transitional justice," Etcheson
Last year's training was followed up with a three month intensive course from June
to August this year and involved instruction on options for funding, court room procedure,
handling of evidence and the process for setting up various forms of tribunal.