Cambodian Lawmakers Pave Way for Khmer Rouge Genocide Trials

2004-10-04
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PHNOM PENH—Cambodia's parliament has ratified an agreement with the United Nations to set up a genocide tribunal to try surviving members of the Khmer Rouge regime, blamed for nearly two million deaths during the "Killing Fields" of 1975-79.

"What we have been waiting for for so long has happened today."

All 107 members of the 123-seat National Assembly who were present on Monday voted to ratify the agreement, which was nearly six years in the making.

The vote paves the way for the United Nations to start raising the U.S.$57 million needed to fund the tribunal, which will include foreign judges and prosecutors.

During its time in power, the Khmer Rouge emptied cities, singled out educated people for execution, and killed an estimated 1.7 million Cambodians through starvation and overwork.

Long awaited day

"What we have been waiting for for so long has happened today," Prime Minister Hun Sen, who was himself a former low-level Khmer Rouge commander before he abandoned the regime, told reporters after the vote.

"This is a very big outcome the Cambodian people and international community have been waiting for."

It was not immediately clear when proceedings would start. Monday's ratification still needs the approval of Cambodia's Senate and head of state. Questions also remain about how the tribunal will be funded.

None of the top Khmer Rouge leaders has yet been brought to justice. The main power behind the regime, Brother Number One Pol Pot, died in 1998.

Other leaders, including Brother Number Two Nuon Chea, then head of state Khieu Samphan, and Foreign Minister Ieng Sary, are free.

Keeping a low profile

Most former Khmer Rouge leaders are in their 60s and 70s, living quietly in Cambodia.

The only two senior figures currently detained and awaiting trial are the one-legged general Ta Mok, the former army chief, and Kaing Khek Iev, the chief interrogator.

The U.N.-Cambodia pact plans three years of trials that will involve more than 2,000 people, but Hun Sen has said his government can afford to supply only the venue, security, water, and electricity.

Funding crisis

Sean Visoth, executive secretary of the Cambodian Task Force working on the tribunal, said the government would send the formal request for funds soon but didn't know when the tribunal would be set up.

Sok An, head of the task force and chief negotiator of the agreement with the U.N., said 27 countries had expressed willingness to donate money.

After more than five years of talks, Cambodia signed the agreement with the United Nations in June 2003. But ratification was delayed for 11 months of political violence and turmoil, during which the country had no functioning legislature.

On the Web:

Amnesty International on Khmer Rouge tribunals

Chronology of Khmer Rouge trial process

Cambodian government Khmer Rouge Trial Task Force

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CH. 1: MANDARIN | CANTONESE

CH. 2: VIETNAMESE | BURMESE | KOREAN

CH. 3: KHMER | LAO | UYGHUR

CH. 4: TIBETAN

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