R EACTIONS in Phnom Penh to the jungle tribunal of Pol Pot in Anlong Veng are mixed,
but regardless of social and academic background nearly all interviewed agree that
the Khmer Rouge leader should be brought before an international tribunal.
Many question whether the trial was real or a show for the media to make it appear
that the guerrilla leader has lost control of his cadre and commanders.
"The trial was unfair and fake. If you could understand Khmer, you would laugh,"
says the Documentation Center of Cambodia director Youk Chhang.
"When I first saw the video, it created anger because for years Khmer Rouge
stupidity is still working, trying to intimidate Cambodian society. And the stupidity
is accepted by the Western world," he charges.
"The word 'joke' is not good enough to describe it. If you were me, as a Cambodian,
looking at the faces cheering in the crowd [you would see] a sign of innocence and
ignorance. This proved that Pol Pot controlled the whole show."
He recalls his own experiences viewing Khmer Rouge trials between 1975 and 1979:
"I was one of them in Pol Pot time, but it was different 22 years ago in Battambang
when I saw they killed the enemy immediately.
"As for the structure of the trial, it is a Khmer Rouge trial. But it was different,"
he notes. "During the Pol Pot trial the villagers said 'smash' not 'kill'. He
left in a white Land Cruiser. They didn't tie him up, blindfold him and hit him.
He was supposed to be tied to a post."
Chhang adds that the faction does not have a history of imprisoning political opponents.
"The Khmer Rouge does not have an arrest policy. They sentence their own cadre
to execution, not arrest," he says. "If Pol Pot had been killed, I would
believe that the trial was true."
As with nearly everyone interviewed, he advocates a tribunal outside of Cambodia.
"Now that we know that he is alive and where he lives, an international court
should be established and Pol Pot should be arrested," he says. "It is
the only way to close the case. [It] has to be separated from politics.
"[The trial] proves that the Khmer Rouge are coming back into society- a different
look, but the same. The KR is the KR no matter what," he argues. "Only
the court can wash the crime away."
Another reason people give for wanting a fair trial is to find out the depth of culpability
in the organization. "If something happens you blame the parent, then see what
the parent says about the children," Chhang concludes.
Cambodian Institute for Cooperation and Peace executive director Kao Kim Hourn agrees
that the trial appeared staged. "It was a show to all of us. Pol Pot looked
very healthy. He didn't look like he had been under house arrest. It gave me the
impression that it was the end of Pol Pot, but looking very carefully [it's] not
true," he says.
"What is also striking is the question of what is beyond this trial? What is
next for Pol Pot? What future does it hold for them? It is a matter of time, how
things will unfold."
He doubts that the Khmer Rouge will turn over Pol Pot without a fight. "The
best solution is to seek support from other countries for a dry-season offensive.
It is very important to catch him alive. It will give a lot of credibility,"
he argues. "The big debate is where to try him. The question will have to be
decided at a later time."
People interviewed in the streets were either cynical or shocked when they saw a
photograph of the trial. One thing most expressed was the desire to see Pol Pot brought
before an international tribunal.
"I am not clear about this man," says Tes San as he looks at a photograph.
"But it is better that an international court sentence him, because during the
three years and 20 days, life was very difficult."
The 48-year old farmer tells of the loss of five relatives during the regime. "I
don't know if Pol Pot was responsible. I never saw him, but my family was killed
by his soldiers," he recalls. "There was no other political party."
Told that the Khmer Rouge had sentenced Pol Pot to life, Cheath Mieng says that the
punishment should be more fitting with the crime.
"He ordered people to work hard with no food and killed a lot of people when
he was in power. A sentence for one life is not enough," the 56-year old cyclo
driver says. "It should be two or more lives."
Mieng says that he is not so concerned about an international tribunal: "I have
no idea where the trial should be, but let's do whatever in order not to allow him
to come back to power again."
Som Khun agrees that a life sentence is not appropriate, but for different reasons.
"He is not fit to be sentenced for life. He is too old and will die soon,"
says the 58-year old produce wholesaler. "I have no idea what sentence [he deserves]."
She questions the legitimacy of the verdict: "It is not suitable to have a jungle
trial, to leave it up to the people in the jungle when they are angry. There is no
official system. He should be brought to an international court."
"If he has a proper trial, by international standards, the peoples' hearts will
be satisfied. This is not a joke," she says sternly. "It is a big story."
As with all people interviewed, she tells of her suffering under Pol Pot's rule.
"I was in Kompong Thom and my aunt was brought to be executed three days before
liberation. My husband died from no medicine," she recalls. "Two or three
of my nest also disappeared when they were sent to another province."
Mental-health nurse Chea Samnang was separated into a children's group at age seven
when the Khmer Rouge took power. Her parents did not survive. "After the Vietnamese
invasion, I didn't know what to feel. I lived in an orphanage and felt very isolated.
I think I had some kind of mental illness," she recalls.
"When I found that Pol Pot killed my family, I wanted to cut him- little bit
by little bit - to kill him slowly," she says." Now, I want Cambodians
to live together and he can live here too."
The least forgiving opinion comes from a Buddhist lay-person. Khon Sawakhet says
that Pol Pot must pay for his crimes with his life, provided he is judged fairly.
"If the international court finds that he has committed crimes, he must be killed.
Life compensates for life. This is a kind of human-rights system. If you kill others,
you have to pay with your life. That's the human rights way," he argues.
"The human rights law stipulates that those who kill people are sent to jail.
That is incorrect. If you kill any other, you have to be killed."
He does not see a conflict between his Buddhist precepts and taking life. "It
is this way in every religion: Islam, Buddhism, Christianity ..." he says. "If
we do [things] this way, the world will get peace."
Vengeance aside, he says that Pol Pot should be judged fairly and that others should
stand trial too.
"Of course he must have a trial and then be killed if he is guilty. But we have
to find the reality of who killed the people before we kill him," he says.
"We have to research who is related to this crime. If he is sent to the international
court, he will have the freedom to answer the accusations to the court," he
says. "If he will, there will be Norodom Sihanouk, Khieu Samphan, Ieng Sary
and some other people. If he goes to the court alone, it will not be fair. The KR
group did not hold a fair trial. These people have no right to sentence him."
Sam Sun agrees that justice would be better meted out in another country. "It
is better to give [the matter] to the international community to decide. I do not
want him to come back to Phnom Penh, because I am not satisfied with the court. The
court here is not independent," says the 67-year old cyclo driver.
"From the top of my heart, Pol Pot should be brought to the international court,"
he states. "A lot want to know who killed a lot of our people. It would be a
fair way to deal with him."
He served in the guerrilla movement that brought Pol Pot to power. "The reason
I joined the Khmer Rouge army in 1970 was because there was a coup against the King.
The King had spoken from Beijing on the radio calling on his children to escape to
the maquis," he recalls. "Many people demonstrated and were killed. So,
we ran to the forest to fight and bring the King back."
After Phnom Penh was taken, he returned to his life as a farmer in Kampot hungrier
than when he had left. He dismisses politicians' promises in general now.
"After 1975, I found that I had spent many years in the jungle fighting the
regime. We got nothing after the victory," he complains. "I don't believe
any party, for example Funcinpec. When I joined and wanted a job, they demanded money.
We were chased into the jungle again in 1993. I don't believe in any political party."
Khmer Institute of Democracy director Lao Mong Hay agrees that the trial was a farce.
"Pol Pot is a major [person] responsible for crimes against humanity. He has
been located, but the process has been conducted by an illegal group. It's not valid,"
he says. "The group represents neither Cambodia nor humanity."
He echoes the call for a trial outside of Cambodia. "I believe that it is in
the interest of Hun Sen and his government to push for the creation of an international
tribunal to judge Pol Pot and the others," he says. "My initial reaction
was that the criminal is alive. He is here. Now the question is to catch him.
"The government could need military assistance to arrest Pol Pot and his followers
to be sent to a tribunal," he predicts." There is a need for guns, but
also for other assistance to favor defections and the integration of Khmer Rouge
soldiers. This second kind of assistance is more important than military assistance.
He argues that singling out Pol Pot will not put the matter to rest. "We are
working to push for the judgment of Pol Pot and others: Khieu Samphan, Ieng Sary,
Chan Youran, Nuon Chea and Son Sen," he says, adding that he is not convinced
that the latter is dead.
"The juridical solution is a permanent solution. We will have solved the Khmer
Rouge problem for good and at the same time the problem of the border," he says.
"It is a crucial [trial] in the history of Cambodia, because it can seal the
border between Thailand and Cambodia. Because a decision to create this tribunal
would launch an appeal to all countries to cooperate and arrest and detain Pol Pot
and the others to be judged."
He concludes that an international tribunal for Pol Pot et al. could deliver Cambodia
out of decades of armed animosity.
"Resolving this conflict would allow [us] to forget the bullet. We have enough
bullets and now we need the ballot," he says. "Ballots are perhaps 1000
times less expensive than bullets. Paper doesn't kill, but bullets do."