W ASHINGTON - The US State Department is setting up an office to investigate Pol
Pot and other Khmer Rouge leaders for genocide during their 1975-79 rule of
Cambodia, sources involved in the effort said on June 7.
The Khmer Rouge
investigation is a delicate matter for the Clinton administration, which has
sought to promote national reconciliation in Cambodia after decades of civil
Private groups pushing to put Khmer Rouge leaders on trial said they
were briefed by State Department officials on the issue on June 7 and that the
department was getting set to name a director of the new office and define its
The State Department declined to discuss details.
legislation signed into law April 30 by President Clinton, the office of
Cambodian Genocide Investigation must be set up by the end of next
The State Department initially opposed the law partly on grounds
that the US lacked standing to bring legal action against the KR.
addition, past US support for the anti-Vietnamese coalition that included the
Khmer Rouge could have proven embarrassing in a full-fledged investigation of
James Hall, director of the office of Vietnam, Laos and
Cambodia, told the June 7 meeting the department did not plan to press for an
international tribunal to try those accused of genocide, as specified in the
law, participants said.
Hall said it was up to the Royal Government to
determine whether to use material produced by the new office at "any national or
international tribunal," according to Michael Bedford, Southeast Asia
coordinator of Oxfam America.
Bedford attended the session as a member of
the executive committee of the Campaign to Oppose the Return of the Khmer Rouge,
a coalition of private groups in the forefront of efforts to put Khmer Rouge
leaders on trial.
Craig Etcheson, executive director of the Campaign,
said the department seemed to favor hiring outside groups to do the
investigative work rather than handling if internally.
was to have the research done by a university. The State Department had
previously indicated that, among other reasons for its initial qualms, it feared
that any such investigation by department officials might lack objectivity and
credibility in some eyes.
The State Department declined formal comment on
its plans for the new office, but an official said the department would comply
fully with the provisions of the law.
Senator Charles Robb, the Virginia
Democrat who is the author of the Cambodian Genocide Justice Act, said creating
the office "lays the groundwork for war crimes trials of Khmer Rouge
The act provides the Cambodian government "encouragement and
evidence to eventually prosecute Pol Pot and the national Khmer Rouge leadership
for perpetrating genocide in Cambodia," Rodd told Reuters.
The law says
it is the "policy of the United States to support efforts to bring to justice
members of the Khmer Rouge for their crimes against humanity" during their
It says the State Department office will "collect, or assist
appropriate organizations to collect relevant data on crimes of genocide" in
Cambodia. The law also mandates the office to develop a proposal for
"establishment of an international tribunal for the prosecution of those accused
of genocide in Cambodia."