T HE KHMER Rouge have been "outlawed". What happens next? What are the practical
consequences of outlawing them?
Part of the answer lies in the text
itself. The terms of the law have been softened and protections have been
A very strongly worded draft was modified to include explicit
penalties for use of the law against innocent parties.
draft also reiterated the King's constitutional power to give full and or
partial pardon to those charged under law, and it extended the amnesty period
from two to six months.
However there was little discussion in the
National Assembly debate about how the law was to be implemented by the
government. Further, the government has issued no instructions to the army or
police as to how to implement the law.
There is no evidence the law is
the first move in a coordinated and concerted campaign to locate, arrest and
incarcerate KR. In fact, this may be beyond the capability of the Royal
Cambodian Armed Forces and police.
A diplomatic observer said: "In many
areas the Khmer Rouge are well known, but no one has made any move yet. Why
should we think the law will change this?
"There are all sorts of
accommodations that have been made between the Khmer Rouge and the local
authorities, and between the Khmer Rouge and the local people, out of mutual
interest and out of fear. It is unlikely that this will change with the passage
of this law."
Another observer described the RCAF as follows: "Everyone
is cooking their own little meal, in their own little pot, over their own little
fire, in their own little corner."
He said he meant by this that the
army consists of small groups of men scattered across the country preoccupied
with their own local concerns.
To mobilize them to take concerted action
against the KR will be next to impossible he believes.
But the government
could use the law to hurt the KR by trying to confiscate KR assets held in Thai
Co-Prime Minister Prince Norodom Ranariddh said he thought the
government would do this in an interview outside parliament after the law was
When the proposal was presented in the National Assembly it was
argued that it would make it more difficult for the Thais to protect and make
business deals with the KR.
Will the law affect people who make business
dealings with the KR? A government official said: "It may be a deterrent to the
larger deals between foreign investors and the Khmer Rouge. But it is unlikely
to affect the arrangements that exist between elements in the army, provincial
leaders and the Khmer Rouge."
Some people question whether the Cambodian
people want a new round of confrontation. They also believe the law will have
the effect of stifling dissent and criticism of the government.
Venerable Yos Huot said: "What the people want is peace. If this law brings
peace that is good. But we will continue to say what we need to say. We will not
be deterred by this law."
A foreign worker said: "The government has
taken a stand, one that will be difficult to back down from. But the Cambodian
people are sick of the war and violence.
"They are, I think, willing to
compromise. But for the leadership who claims to speak on their behalf there is
"If there had been a secret vote [on the bill in the
National Assembly] we might have seen dissent that could not be openly
Cassie Nieu, the Director of the Khmer Institute of Human
Rights, said: "The law reduces the chances of reconciliation, though it may
improve the chances of national security.
"But I am not trying to
second-guess the government, I am speaking as an advocate of peace, someone who
prefers non-violence to muscle in resolving conflicts. I personally believe we
should have remained patient and continued negotiations."
A member of the
government said: "Outlawing the Khmer Rouge will not by itself solve the
problem. We need to find ways to isolate them diplomatically and militarily.
"The law needs to be complemented by a package of instruments. But the
government has eliminated the possibility of Khmer Rouge
Joan Anderson, of the NGO Forum on Cambodia, said aid
groups have not yet formed a collective opinion on the bill.
"My own view is that everything depends on how the law is implemented. The
concrete effect on the NGOs will be that they will be less likely to go into
areas where there is a Khmer Rouge presence.
"In the past we have been
able, with great difficulty, to build bridges through intermediaries to help
Cambodians that we could not otherwise aid.
"We are likely to be more
reluctant to do this in the future. In principle we want to help all Cambodians,
this law will make that more difficult.
"The Forum has taken the position
in the past that the top KR leadership from the 1970's should never be part of
"But we recognize that the majority of Cambodians prefer
negotiation to confrontation. But the Khmer Rouge have not shown their
willingness to make the compromises necessary to achieve peace.
last offensive NGOs found government soldiers looting from project sites, and
many NGOs had to start back from ground zero."
Liz Berstein, who works
for Ponleu Khmer NGO, fears the law may be abused. She said: "We were in the
Battambang hospital after the peace march, visiting the wounded. We heard a lot
of complaints among soldiers about forced recruitment and the extortion that
"One soldier told of another threatening to denounce him
as a Khmer Rouge unless he paid him money. I wonder how many more incidents like
this we will find now that the law is passed."
Anderson said: "While
understanding the government's wish to take a stand on this issue, we still
worry about human rights abuses, the kinds of accusations that have been made
As the Post went to press there were still question marks
concerning the bill officially becoming law because King Sihanouk, as Head of
State, has refused to sign the bill promulgating it.
Constitution, bills may only be promulgated by the Head of State. However the
King is not totally blocking the law. He has faxed the National Assembly
requesting the Constitution be amended so that Chairman of the National Assembly
Chea Sim can sign the bill as acting Head of State. Amendments to the
Constitution require a two thirds majority.