Logo of Phnom Penh Post newspaper Phnom Penh Post - PM-UNSG talks agree: more talks

PM-UNSG talks agree: more talks

PM-UNSG talks agree: more talks

As Cambodia awaits the arrival of yet another team of UN legal experts, the fate

of a future Khmer Rouge tribunal remains as uncertain as ever.

While some analysts are optimistic that a compromise between the Cambodian government

and the world body is moving closer, others point out that the differences between

the two are still large.

Most, however, agree that the Feb 12 agreement between UN Secretary-General Kofi

Annan and Prime Minister Hun Sen in Bangkok is more a sign that none of the parties

want to be seen as the one to break off the talks than an indication of real progress.

After months of draft laws, comments and mutual invitations being sent back and forth

between New York and Phnom Penh, the decision of whether the UN should engage in

further discussions was left up to Annan two weeks ago.

On Feb 8, the secretary-general sent a letter to Hun Sen, forthrightly saying that

the UN would only continue the process if the Cambodians agreed to discuss four specific

issues, out of which three had at least been partially resolved earlier.

In his letter, Annan called for an independent international prosecutor and a majority

of international judges at the tribunal.

These two issues had already been dealt with in the US-brokered compromise from October

last year that stipulated Cambodian/foreign co-prosecution and rulings by super-majority

which would demand at least one of a minority of foreign judges agree with their

Cambodian counterparts.

Also, the secretary-general pointed out - as "the single most important condition

for the success of the tribunal" - a guarantee that the Cambodian government

will arrest all those indicted by the tribunal. Even though article 33 in the current

trial draft law states that Cambodian police and armed forces must "ensure that

the suspects are brought into custody immediately", the UN wants this guarantee

also set down in an international agreement.

"A Cambodian law is simply not enough. So many Cambodian laws remain unenforced,"

explained a diplomatic source about the background for the UN's emphasis on this


Finally, Annan mentioned that the amnesty clause in the law must be extended to address

amnesties already granted to former KR leaders. This is specifically directed towards

former KR Foreign Minister Ieng Sary, who was granted a royal pardon when he defected

to the government in 1996.

On top of the four legal issues, Annan rejected all criticism that the UN has been

too slow in its responses to the Cambodian government. Instead the letter put the

blame on Phnom Penh for taking three months before it submitted its second draft

law to New York. The harsh tone of the letter has upset some politicians

"It was a very rude letter. We are not the best government in the world, and

we know that. But instead of just criticizing us, why didn't they send somebody here

to help us draft the law. They should have done that a long time ago," said

CPP Senator Chhang Song, who years ago was one of the first to argue for an independent

international tribunal to try former KR leaders.

The wording of Annan's letter has led to speculation that it was a move to provoke

the Cambodian government to break off negotiations. A strong legal focus in its contents

points to heavy influence by the UN Legal Affairs Department, that has long been

rumored to be in favor of abandoning the process.

On the other hand, it could also have been part of a strategy to build up pressure

before the UN-ASEAN conference in Bangkok where both Annan and Hun Sen would be present.

"It is a normal negotiating strategy that before a meeting both parties outline

a strong position. You set your demands very high, so you can later come down and

make concessions. That way both parties look wise and constructive to the public,"

said Ok Serei Sopheak, Director of the Cambodian Center for Conflict Resolution.

Certainly, on his side, Hun Sen was building up pressure, too. During the CPP's biannual

congress on Feb 7-8, the Prime Minister spoke out strongly against UN control of

the tribunal, although in its final declaration, the congress expressed support for

the participation of foreign judges and prosecutor.

After receiving Annan's letter, Hun Sen blasted the UN, saying that the world body

only wanted Cambodia to be a "dog guarding a house that belongs to someone else".

However, he chose to further discuss the matter with Annan in Bangkok, instead of

simply breaking off the negotiations as some may have expected.

One government source notes that the Prime Minister's reaction may not solely be

because he doesn't want to be seen as the one who terminated the UN's involvement

in the process:

"Somehow, both he and many CPP hard-liners have realized that they have to make

a deal with the UN. They have to move forward on this matter. There are so many other

important issues facing the country before the next election and they cannot let

the question of a trial spoil everything else. It has to be resolved this year, so

they are ready to make concessions," said the source.

Whether Hun Sen made concessions during his meeting in Bangkok with Annan is unknown.

But an agreement was made to send a UN delegation to Cambodia to continue the talks.

The arrival date of the team has not yet been determined, but it is believed that

the delegation will consist of both political and legal officers.

"This is a long drawn out process with high stakes which are political and not

legal. Therefore we need someone with a good feel for political realities to head

the team," said the diplomat.

Meanwhile, the Legislative Committee of the National Assembly is still reviewing

the current tribunal draft law. The law was initially scheduled to be debated in

the Assembly on Feb 14, but according to committee chairman Mohn Sophan, more time

is needed for examination of the text.

Sophan has invited the public to submit comments on the draft law that will be taken

into consideration during the committee's work. So far, he has received three commentaries

from NGOs, including one from the Center for Social Development (CSD).

CSD is currently preparing its second public forum on 'National reconciliation and

the Khmer Rouge'. The forum will be held in Phnom Penh on Feb 24 and is expected

to draw a crowd of 180 people including MPs, monks, nuns and laymen.

At CSD's previous public forum, held in Battambang on Jan 27, a substantial delegation

of former KR cadres from Pailin and Phnom Malai were among the participants who debated

the pros and cons of a KR tribunal or other means of achieving national reconciliation.

It is still uncertain whether they will also take part in the forum in Phnom Penh.

"Former KR cadres in Phnom Penh have declined to participate, and I have not

yet heard from the people in Pailin and Malai. After our last forum I urged them

to come to Phnom Penh, too, although I warned them that it would be harder than in

Battambang," said CSD President Chea Vannath.

According to Ok Serei Sopheak, it is crucial that the former KR continue their opening

up and facing the victims of the brutal 1975-79 regime that left at least 1.7 million

dead. He, himself, recently initiated the first informal meetings between former

KR and non-KR officials.

"Of course, we need a trial. But we also need some kind of truth process, where

the former KR stand forward and explain and sincerely acknowledge their mistakes,"

said Sopheak.

"It will not be a formal process like the Truth and Reconciliation Committee

in South Africa and it will have to happen step-by-step, first with informal gatherings,

then smaller public forums like the ones we see now and possibly expanding to radio

and TV broadcasts that the whole nation can watch."

"I think right now, the former KR are making assessments of whether this is

positive or negative to them. But this process is very important for all Cambodians,

so my message to the former KR is: please continue to open up and reach a bigger

audience. That way, one day, people will see you differently and you will no longer

be called Khmer Rouge, only Khmer."


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