Ex-Khmer Rouge leaders could face trial

Cambodia may cooperate with United Nations effort

September 01, 2002|By NEW YORK TIMES NEWS SERVICE

PHNOM PENH, Cambodia - In what seems to have become a never-ending diplomatic two-step, the United Nations has revived the possibility of putting Cambodia's former Khmer Rouge leaders on trial.

In February, it cut off five years of discussions with Cambodia, saying the government had displayed what it called a "lack of urgency" that had raised questions among diplomats here about whether it truly wanted to proceed with a trial.

More than two decades after they were driven from power after causing the deaths of more than 1 million people in the late 1970s, it appeared that the surviving Khmer Rouge leaders had gotten off scot-free.

Their chief, Pol Pot, died in 1998, but a dozen other major figures live freely in Cambodia. Prime Minister Hun Sen, whose word is final here, has pursued a policy of ambiguity over whether he wants a trial.

Last year, under his direction, parliament approved legislation to set up an international tribunal, but the law contained provisions unacceptable to the United Nations. The main sticking point was Cambodia's insistence that its own courts, which are viewed as corrupt and ill-trained, would have the final say in the proceedings, rather than the United Nations.

In recent weeks, Cambodia has communicated to the United Nations that it might be willing to make compromises, and on Aug. 14, the organization's spokesman, Fred Eckhard, gave the first public indication that it might be possible to try again.

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