PAILIN leaders have their hopes set on United States development aid after a visit
by US Ambassador Kent Wiedemann to the former Khmer Rouge stronghold late last month.
Wiedemann met Pailin Governor Ee Chhean and First Deputy Governor Ieng Vuth. Among
other matters, they discussed a future tribunal to try former KR leaders and various
development issues in the Pailin area.
The US has pushed hard to work out a KR tribunal deal between the Cambodian Government
and the United Nations. The tribunal draft law is stuck in the Legislative Commission
of the National Assembly, which is awaiting further instructions from the Government
on how to amend the law.
Vuth confirmed that Wiedemann discussed the prospects of a KR tribunal while in Pailin.
"The ambassador was very frank about the role of the US in the KR tribunal;
he did not confirm an actual number of how many former KR would face trial, but explained
that it would only be the top leaders, who would be prosecuted," said Vuth,
whose parents, former KR Foreign Minister Ieng Sary and former KR Social Minister
Khieu Thirith, could both be eligible for prosecution under the current tribunal
In response, Chhean told Wiedemann that the KR tribunal must not threaten peace and
The Pailin leaders also drew Wiedemann's attention to a number of difficulties facing
After the town defected to the Government in 1996, the US pledged to pay for reconstruction
of National Route 10 between Pailin and Battambang. However, the project was halted
by the factional fighting in July 1997, which caused the US to withdraw all direct
aid to the Cambodian Government. Today, Route 10 remains in very poor condition.
"We told the ambassador that the first priority of Pailin is to repair National
Route 10, but when I mentioned this to the ambassador, he only looked at me and smiled,"
Instead, Vuth said, Wiedemann expressed serious interest in the old airstrip outside
Pailin and in helping the cash-strapped Cambodian Mine Action Center (CMAC) to continue
its demining activities in Pailin. CMAC recently halted operations in Pailin due
to lack of funding.
"The ambassador said he was looking to build an airport in Pailin," Vuth
said. "We agreed with him. He also promised to help for the continuation of
CMAC activities in Pailin."
Wiedemann denied that he made any promises of US development aid to Pailin, except
to support particular demining units within CMAC who are working on specific projects
that the US have identified - among them Pailin.
"[The Pailin leaders] raised the request for assistance," Wiedemann said.
"I said that I understand their needs. It is a very isolated and poor area.
"But I made no commitments. I have made it clear, both to the Government and
to Pailin, that the kind of aid requested is not possible under existing US legislation
until there is a commitment to deal with certain issues, such as the KR tribunal."
United States legislation prohibits direct aid to the Cambodian Government. It also
obliges US representatives in international funding institutions such as the World
Bank and the International Monetary Fund (IMF) to oppose loans to Cambodia for anything
not essential to "support basic human needs".