Hun Sen says decision on KR investigations could spark more deadly conflict.
Judicial decisions should be based on evidence, not political considerations.
PRIME Minister Hun Sen on Monday lashed out at the decision by the Khmer Rouge tribunal to pave the way for investigations of more regime figures, warning that doing so risks sparking civil unrest that could claim hundreds of thousands of lives.
"If you want a tribunal, but you don't want to consider peace and reconciliation and war breaks out again, killing 200,000 or 300,000 people, who will be responsible?" asked Hun Sen, speaking at a forum on census results at Chaktomuk Theatre.
The war crimes court's Pre-Trial Chamber in a ruling announced last week opened the door to investigations of suspects beyond the five regime leaders currently in custody.
The decision ended a nine-month dispute between the now-resigned international co-prosecutor, Robert Petit, who wished to file additional submissions for investigations, and the national co-prosecutor, Chea Leang, who cited concerns about national stability in arguing against the filings.
Hun Sen described Petit's push for more investigations as being inconsistent with the UN's past stance towards the Khmer Rouge, who represented Cambodia at the UN General Assembly in the 1980s.
"Before, they all supported the Khmer Rouge at the UN, but now when we try the detained Khmer Rouge leaders they say it is not enough," he said.
He went on to defend his policy - carried out after the Khmer Rouge fell from power - of encouraging high-level cadres to defect to the government, adding that he did not look kindly on threats to a peace he described as hard-earned.
"Finally, I have got peace, so I will not let someone destroy it," he said.
"The people and the nation will not be destroyed by someone trying to lead the country into instability, whether it is a Cambodian or a foreigner."
During a speech in March, Hun Sen made similar claims, saying he would rather see the tribunal fail than more suspects be tried and the Kingdom descend into chaos.
Though Hun Sen emphasised that he was "not pressuring the court", the New York-based group Human Rights Watch said the premier's remarks amounted to another in a series of attempts to exert influence over the tribunal.
"For Hun Sen to continually insist that the Khmer Rouge tribunal limit the number of people it prosecutes shows once again the Cambodian government's efforts to manipulate what is supposed to be an independent judicial process," said the group's Asia director, Brad Adams.
"It is specious to claim that war will return to Cambodia if a few more suspects are prosecuted," he said.
"Judicial decisions should be based on evidence, not political considerations," Adams added.
The coordinator of the UN Assistance to the Khmer Rouge Trials (UNAKRT), Knut Rosandhaug, said Monday the court would not be influenced by the executive branch.
"It is a clearly established international standard that courts do not seek approval or advice on their work from the executive branch," Knut Rosandhaug said.
"I expect that the [tribunal] will comply with this internationally recognised standard and make its decisions independently."
Acting international co-prosecutor William Smith - Petit resigned before the ruling was made - declined to comment.
Chea Leang could not be reached for comment.
Hun Sen on Monday also took aim at genocide researcher Youk Chhang, director of the Documentation Center of Cambodia (DC-Cam), who was quoted Monday in the daily newspaper Kampuchea Thmey as saying that the tribunal should explain to the prime minister its reasoning for pushing for more prosecutions.
"The [tribunal] should show their reasons for wanting to prosecute further Khmer Rouge suspects to Prime Minister Hun Sen, as previously he showed the stance of not wanting to prosecute more suspects because of fears of social instability," Youk Chhang was quoted as saying.
Responding to those comments, Hun Sen said: "I want to be clear on this point. I am not pressuring the court. Youk Chhang should not interfere on this issue anymore."
Youk Chhang wrote in an email Monday that he only told Kampuchea Thmey that the court "should explain why they want to prosecute more people".
He also said he had sent a letter to the prime minister to clarify his position.
Closing arguments set
The Trial Chamber ruled Monday that closing statements in the trial of Tuol Sleng prison chief Kaing Guek Eav, alias Duch, would commence on November 23. The chamber rejected a request from the co-prosecutors to push them back one week because Chea Leang would not be able to attend.
ECCC judges' plenary to focus on streamlining role of civil parties
THE tribunal's weeklong plenary session is to focus today on the issue of civil party participation, five days after the Rules and Procedure Committee convened an "urgent meeting" to discuss ways to make that participation "more meaningful", Trial Chamber Judge Silvia Cartwright said during an opening speech Monday. "It is well-known that the Trial Chamber has found the process of involving victims as civil parties to be cumbersome, and that it has frequently had the unlooked-for effect of slowing the trial while not providing for the victims' needs, which include achieving timely justice for their suffering," she said. The tribunal has received a total of 2,210 civil party applications, Plenary President Kong Srim said. The vast majority of those applications are for the court's second case, for which Kong Srim said the civil party process "could be an ultimate failure" if changes aren't made. On Monday the plenary was briefed on a budget proposal for 2010 and 2011. UN court spokesman Lars Olsen said the court aims to present a budget proposal to the Group of Interested States by mid-October. Also Thursday, the Cambodian Centre for Human Rights (CCHR) submitted an amicus curiae, or friend of the court, brief to the Pre-Trial Chamber pertaining to a decision by the Office of the Co-Investigating Judges (OCIJ) regarding the use of "torture-tainted evidence". The OCIJ in July dismissed a request from Ieng Thirith's defence team to deem all such evidence inadmissible. Lawyers for the former minister of social action appealed that decision. In its brief, CCHR called for the OCIJ decision to be overturned.