Despite strong government opposition, the UN-backed Khmer Rouge trial yesterday charged another ex-Khmer Rouge official in Case 004, with former deputy Central Zone secretary Ao An, better known as Ta An, appearing in person at the court to face allegations of crimes against humanity and premeditated murder.
The charges, issued by International Co-Investigating Judge Mark Harmon without support from his national counterpart You Bunleng, come less than a month after Harmon charged former Democratic Kampuchea officials Im Chaem and Meas Muth in cases 004 and 003, respectively.
However unlike Muth and Chaem, who were charged in absentia after police apparently refused to arrest the pair, Ta An appeared at the tribunal to hear the charges related to purges and executions during the Democratic Kampuchea regime.
“He was summonsed, appeared before the judge and he was informed about the charges against him,” said Extraordinary Chambers in the Courts of Cambodia spokesman Lars Olsen.
“Now [his legal team] have the ability to ask for investigative actions on their behalf or they can challenge evidence.”
The charges – including premeditated homicide as a violation of the 1956 Cambodian Penal Code and crimes against humanity – cover crimes committed at Kok Pring execution site, Toul Beng security centre and Wat Au Trakuon security centre during the Democratic Kampuchea regime.
According to the ECCC statement, the crimes against humanity charge covers murder, extermination, persecution on political and religious grounds, imprisonment, and other inhumane acts.
Speaking to the Post in 2011, Ta An denied he was responsible for the killings and said he was not afraid to face the tribunal.
Initiated in 2009, cases 003 and 004 – which focus on mid-level cadres – have long been opposed by the government, with Prime Minister Hun Sen warning the country could slip into “civil war” if further charges were laid, an assertion disputed by observers.
According to a court spokesperson, Bunleng – who had not participated in the investigation – said yesterday that Harmon’s evidence “showed more doubt” as to whether the suspects named in the case fell within the court’s jurisdiction.
However, he added, he would “continue the discussion” and “work closely” with Harmon based on standard legal and procedural and “high professionalism”.