Sunday 26 February 2017

Khmer Rouge trial to expose role of complicit nations

Andrew Buncombe in Cambodia

THE four most senior former members of the Khmer Rouge regime still alive will go on trial today at a genocide tribunal that has been shaken by allegations that it has buckled under political interference.

It is expected the hearing will highlight uncomfortable details about the role of nations such as the US, China and the UK in supporting the Maoist-inspired rebels, and even creating the circumstances in which they swept to power.

The trial in Phnom Penh will see four ageing former rebel leaders brought before the court where they will face charges of genocide, war crimes, crimes against humanity and murder.

The defendants -- the regime's second-in-command, Nuon Chea; the former foreign minister, Ieng Sary; the former social affairs minister, Ieng Thirith; and the ex-head of state, Khieu Samphan -- all deny the charges.

"We are addressing probably the most serious crimes committed since World War Two -- 1.8 million people at least were killed in the space of (four) years," Andrew Cayley, the international co-prosecutor in the case, said last night from the Cambodian capital.

Observers say the case is crucial because of the senior position held by the four defendants in the regime which seized power between 1975 and 1979 and set up a programme of enforced rural relocation and labour camps.

Last year the tribunal found guilty Guek Eav, known as 'Comrade Duch', who headed the notorious S-21 detention centre. He was sentenced to 19 years in jail.

But the new trial, case 002, is taking place against a backdrop of mounting controversy at the tribunal, which has, so far, cost $150m (€105.6m), and which took a decade to establish.

It has been alleged investigating judges are buckling under political pressure from the Cambodian authorities not to bring charges against other defendants, who have been named in cases 003 and 004. The judges have denied the allegations.

Cambodian Prime Minister, Hun Sen, a former Khmer Rouge commander who left the movement, has long made clear his opposition to the tribunal.

For many of the world's major powers, including a number of those who are funding the tribunal, the trial could raise awkward issues.

While the timescale has been fixed from April 1975 to January 1979, defence lawyers say they intend to place the events of those years in a broader historical context.

Support

As a result, the US's bombing campaign of Cambodia and Laos could be raised. China's support for the rebels will also be highlighted, as will the decision by several countries, including the US and Britain, to support the Khmer Rouge holding on to Cambodia's seat at the UN General Assembly, even after they had been defeated.

The sessions this week will be taken up mostly by procedure. Sources suggest evidence may be presented in September, and the process could take two years. (© Independent News Service)

Irish Independent

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