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Duch and Ta Mok investigations on ice

Duch and Ta Mok investigations on ice

Two years after the arrest of former S-21 chief Duch and former Khmer Rouge military

chief Ta Mok, court officials are expressing frustration at the influence of the

KR tribunal delay on investigations into the pair's involvement in mass murder during

the 1975-1979 KR regime.

Ta Mok and Duch have been held in Phnom Penh's military prison since their respective

arrests on March 6 and May 10, 1999. Originally charged under a 1994 law outlawing

membership in the KR, the National Assembly passed a legal amendment in Aug, 1999

allowing detention of up to three years before trial for suspects of genocide or

crimes against humanity.

But while initial interrogations of Ta Mok reportedly reaped significant insights

into the inner workings of the top KR leadership, including politically sensitive

revelations of KR-Funcinpec collusion before and after the 1997 coup, court investigations

of the pair were suspended in early 2000 when relations between the UN and the Cambodian

government over the trial were at their frostiest.

"I don't think we have a difficult problem to [investigate] Ta Mok's case, but

we have difficulties understanding [the eventual form] of the new KR tribunal law,"

explained Ngin Sam An, Investigating Judge for the Ta Mok case. "We interrogated

Ta Mok many times but we stopped our interrogations because we are waiting to see

the KR tribunal law, then we can learn how to work with international co-investigation


Sam An refused to give details about the fruits of those early interrogations.

Military Court Prosecutor Soa Sok said he was unaware that work on Duch and Ta Mok's

cases had ended more than a year ago.

"I have received few reports about Ta Mok and Duch's case," Sok complained.

Youk Chhang, Director of the Documentation Center of Cambodia, was also critical

of the court's cessation of activity in the cases of the only two KR leaders in custody.

According to Chhang, none of the potential witnesses that DC- CAM had identified

as having useful information in the cases of both suspects had been contacted by

the court.

"I think that if the investigating judge was going about his work seriously,

the important witnesses would be interrogated," Chhang said.

Duch's lawyer, Kar Savuth, said that in spite of the court delay in the investigation

of his client's case, his own work as defense lawyer had continued unimpeded. Post

efforts to contact Benson Samay, defense attorney for Ta Mok, were unsuccessful.

Sam An notes that Duch and Ta Mok will leave the prison free men if legal proceedings

are not instituted against them by Aug, 2002.

"I think that according to the law Ta Mok can live outside detention of court

when the legal period of detention ends in three years [from Aug 1999] but the judge

will still continue to investigate [after they are released]." Sam An said.

Military Court Chief Ney Thol, chief of Military Court echoed An's concerns that

the clock was ticking on the capacity of the court to successfully prosecute Ta Mok

and Duch for crimes against humanity and genocide, but said that he would do everything

in his power to see justice done.

"If the new KR tribunal law cannot be signed into law in time [to legally prosecute

Ta Mok and Duch] , we will continue our legal procedure to open a trial with existing

laws," Thol said.