​Mok, Samphan and Chea reportedly held | Phnom Penh Post

Mok, Samphan and Chea reportedly held


Publication date
11 December 1998 | 07:00 ICT

Reporter : Bou Saroeun and Peter Sainsbury

More Topic


RCAF and KR make friends at Preah Vihear, Dec. 4, 98.

THE tidy up of the last remnants of the Khmer Rouge appears to be complete following

the reported detention of the top three leaders Ta Mok, Nuon Chea and Khieu Samphan.

With the December 4 surrender of the bulk of the remaining hard-line Khmer Rouge

the three top leaders were the only question mark over the end of the group.

A US embassy official in Phnom Penh refused to discuss the detention saying they

could neither confirm nor deny the reports.

The detention of the three at the behest of United States officials was reported

in this week's Far Eastern Economic Review.

The spotlight is now turning on some form of court for the former leaders.

Although the United Nations is already looking at a war crimes tribunal similar to

Rwanda or the former Yugoslavia, a push for some form of local Cambodian run trial

appears to be gaining momentum. The UN has sent experts to Cambodia recently to examine

evidence and suggest what form a tribunal should take.

The options include an international tribunal, such as is being used to try war criminals

from the former Yugoslavia, a truth commission as has been the case in South Africa

or a local trial under local laws.

The last option is the one that some analysts say is the most likely.

An international tribunal will cost at least $40 million a year to run according

to some estimates, based on the Yugoslavian experience. There are also concerns that

it will take too long to organize.

One analyst said that the cost alone makes the international tribunal unlikely "who

is going to pay for it? the Dutch? the Swedes? I doubt it".

Hun Sen is believed to favor a local tribunal with international assistance.

An advisor to the Prime Minister said that whatever form the tribunal takes it must

also include a trial for Pol Pot although he is already dead.

He said Hun Sen believes it is impossible to try people lower down the hierarchy

if the top people have not been put before the court even if only in a symbolic way.

One KR expert contended that Hun Sen was already poised to seize the initiative for

a trial of the KR leadership even before the reports of the leaders' detention had

been publicized.

He said if the trial was held locally it could be up and running very swiftly; it

would also be cheaper. And he added politically, both nationally and internationally,

it would be to his advantage to have a local trial.

Internationally it would give Hun Sen a great deal of satisfaction to be able to

steal the thunder from the UN-lead trial option.

"He could say ëwe have been asking for 20 years for you to do something about

these people so now we are going to do it ourselves'."

Locally the trial would be under the auspices of the Ministry of Justice now led

by Hun Sen's Fun-cinpec partners, which would isolate the Prime Minister somewhat

from any internal repercussions from former KR allies now in the government, who

could take exception to the sudden hard-line against their former leaders.

Pressure would also go onto Ranariddh, as head of the National Assembly, to ensure

that appropriate legislation was formulated and passed in time for a trial.

A Hun Sen advisor said that while the Prime Minister has suggested the local trial

he would wait and see what the UN experts recommended before making a final decision.

He said Hun Sen's main concerns were the expense and the delay in getting a tribunal

going if it was left solely up to the international community.

There are concerns that no locally run court would be independent enough to run such

a trial.

Youk Chang, from the Cambodian Documentation Center, said that it was important that

any trial was seen to be fair, that the accused have competent legal representation

and that the courts final decision is respected by everyone no matter what it might


"Any trial needs to be governed by legality rather than politics," he said,

"only then will the matter be put to rest."

However Youk Chang warned that it is necessary to still treat the KR with caution

despite the surrender of the rank and file and reported detention of top leaders.

"The Khmer Rouge have lived in the jungle for 20 years it will take them 15

years to adapt back into society."

The involvement of the US and Thailand in the leaders' detention shows the turn around

in the KR's fortunes over the past year.


The media get to question the leaders, Dec. 7, 1998.

Both were once allies to the group - the United States because of the KR's battle

against the Vietnamese, the Thais for the financial benefits of doing business with

the KR as well as what one Bang-kok-based diplomat said was there perception that

a destabilised Cambodia was to the Thais' advantage.

The Thai military are currently denying any knowledge of the detention of the three

men. However usually the Thai military deny any knowledge of any KR activities or

personnel despite the documented close co-operation between the two organizations

particularly in border areas.

But at Suranee army base in the Thai province of Surin last week Thai army officers

did admit to knowing the whereabouts of the three.

One officer said that they were just inside Cambodia near the border not far from

the Pou Noy refugee camp, home to about 15,000 KR civilians.

People in the camp said that the area the Thai officer indicated was surrounded by

Thai soldiers.

Now the three men are friendless, only Khieu Samphan had a life line. The day before

the detention was announced Hun Sen advisor Om Yieng Teng said that the Prime Minister

would again consider an amnesty for Samphan if he assisted in the apprehension of

the other two leaders.

Hun Sen's offer and the Thais' action indicate that over the past few weeks there

has been something of a race to apprehend the three men - with the Thais and Americans


According to former KR commander Yim Phanna, now with RCAF, the three leaders were

aware that their time was running out as early as the middle of last year.

He said that just before the July coup Mok, Chea and Sam-phan tried to arrange their

own defections to the government but the plans were scuttled by the coup.

"They used to tell me that they wanted a national coalition and they wanted

to defect to the government but there was no opportunity after the events of July

5 and 6." The situation was in disarray so they became mistrustful.

He went ahead with his own defection after deciding not to wait for the three men

to sort out new arrangements.

He said that the intellectuals who defected earlier this year from Mok still had

some hope that Samphan would defect.

Phanna said that when he saw them in Pailin they were grateful for the help he had

given them to escape and wondered if he could do the same for Samphan.

"When I met them they cried and thanked me and then asked me why I did not take

Khieu Samphan with me and asked me now to help him," he said.

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