Sihanouk urges trial of Khmer Rouge as war criminals

November 17, 1991|By Los Angeles Times

PHNOM PENH, Cambodia -- In his first speech inside Cambodia in two decades, Prince Norodom Sihanouk told a throng in front of the royal palace yesterday that his former enemies in the Phnom Penh government had done a good job and that his former allies in the hard-line Khmer Rouge should be tried as war criminals.

At his first news conference since returning to the country Thursday, a jovial Prince Sihanouk, 69, announced the formation of a political coalition consisting of the ruling Cambodian People's Party in Phnom Penh and the Sihanouk political party, which is headed by his son, Prince Norodom Ranariddh.

Prince Sihanouk, who is the president of a four-party coalition government and who has pledged to remain neutral, nevertheless predicted that the alliance between Phnom Penh and Prince Ranariddh would win the popular election expected in about two years.

"It is sure. It is inevitable. I remain neutral, but I bet," said Prince Sihanouk. "I am not unhappy."

The formation of the political alliance follows an amazing transformation in Prince Sihanouk's relations with the Phnom Penh regime headed by Prime Minister Hun Sen, whom Prince Sihanouk dubbed his "second son" after Prince Ranariddh.

Until this fall, Prince Sihanouk headed a three-group guerrilla coalition that since 1979 has sought to oust the Phnom Penh regime from power because it was installed by a Vietnamese invasion. But on his return Thursday, Prince Sihanouk drove through the streets of Phnom Penh with Hun Sen at his side.

While Prince Sihanouk said he had entered into a marriage of convenience with the Khmer Rouge against the Phnom Penh regime, he told a crowd of 25,000 people in front of his palace yesterday that the past is "unforgettable" and that he is "100 percent in support" of calls for a war crimes tribunal to try the leadership of the Khmer Rouge.

Meanwhile, Reuters reported that former Khmer Rouge Defense Minister Son Sen arrived today in the capital he emptied at gunpoint 16 years ago.

Son Sen and nine other senior Khmer Rouge members arrived in Phnom Penh for the first time in 13 years to serve on a U.N.-supervised national reconciliation body.

More than 1 million Cambodians died during the Khmer Rouge rule from 1975 to early 1979 as the result of executions, torture and starvation.

Prince Sihanouk brought a hush to the crowd when he described how five of his children and 14 of his grandchildren had been killed by the Khmer Rouge, who beat them against trees on the palace grounds.

"It's unforgettable," he said.

Prince Sihanouk said that a decision on a war crimes tribunal would be left to the government to be formed after elections. He said the elections would be a form of trial for the Khmer Rouge, since, if the guerrillas are popular, they will receive a large share of the vote.

Prince Sihanouk said that the recently renamed People's Party, which had been the ruling Communist Party in the country, had "achieved many positive and beneficial things for Cambodia."

Among them he listed the recognition by the state of Buddhism as an official religion, the government's efforts to care for the people by distributing land, the liberalization of the economy, and the acceptance of a multiparty system.

Under a peace agreement signed in Paris last month, the United Nations will supervise a cease-fire, help administer the country and conduct free elections for a national assembly.

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