Former Khmer Rouge army divisional commanders in Battambang and Siem Reap have admitted they are worried about the consequences of an international trial.
Former army divisional commander Sou Met, the deputy commander of Division 5 in Battambang, told the Post that some of the seven candidates named in an international report last month were nervous. A further concern, he added, was the extent to which prosecutors would investigate down the KR's chain of command.
"If the trial focuses on those most responsible under the Khmer Rouge regime, then it does not matter. But we are concerned that the trial might be connected to us," he said. Met added that another danger lay in evidence that could connect other lower-ranking former KR members.
Of the seven candidates for prosecution named in the report, three currently hold high ranking government military positions in the northwest of the country. They are Ke Pauk, former secretary of the north-central zone and member of the Central Committee, Meas Muth, who was chairman of the Communist Party of Kamphuchea's military division, and Sou Met.
Like other senior KR, Sou Met has denied he had any part in the atrocities committed at that time. He said that no-one was able to refuse an order issued by the late Pol Pot.
"It was difficult, you know. When looking back at the political chain of the standing committee of the CPK Central Committee and all people from the central committee up to the people at the division could not go against an order from Pol Pot," he said.
Another former KR commander, Yim Phana, now deputy military commander of Region 4, said he would be unhappy if the trial followed the setup favored by the international community.
"I hope that the government will not forget the words which it spoke to help bring about national reconciliation in the interests of peace. I think that it is normal for suspects to be worried," he said. "I can say quite simply that it is not only a Khmer Rouge issue - it affects other politicians and other political parties."
He added that his 'brothers' in Samlot, Pailin and Anlong Veng would not be pleased if the trial focused on the likes of Ke Pauk, Meas Muth or Sou Met. He was not concerned about himself since he was from a younger generation. He said that the older generation were more nervous. He explained that they were concerned that the trial could end up like a meal of samlor kampes (shrimp soup): when diners pick up one shrimp, three or four others cling on.
"I think that whatever happens will not spark an armed conflict, but this is causing an interruption to the process of national reconciliation," he said.
The display of nerves coincided with an announcement by Prime Minister Hun Sen that he expected that around the 10 most senior former KR would face trial. Nervousness was also aroused by the relocation to Battambang of 10 tanks formerly used by the KR's 22nd Brigade in Pailin.
However, General Bun Seng, commander of Region 5, told the Post on August 29 that the relocation was coincidental. He said the tanks were moved to Battambang Military Base 67 for repairs.
"This is nothing to do with the trial of former KR leaders," he said. "Our brothers understand the trial involves only the top leaders..."
General Seng said that he did not foresee a problem if the court decided to try Meas Muth and Sou Met. He said the two men were ready to stand trial and that many people were prepared to testify against them. He also denied that a gathering of former KR troops in the north-west was related to the trial.
The proposed tribunal against those deemed responsible for torture and killings between 1975 and 1979 is awaiting discussion between the government and the UN.