TOPICS: Khmer Rouge trials too slow for many

It was just eight on a Sunday morning, but 78-year-old farmer You Song had already finished seeing most of the sprawling Royal Palace in the Cambodian capital of Phnom Penh. Song does not live in Phnom Penh, but is from Oudor Meanchey, 469 km away. In the capital to attend the Khmer Rouge Trials (KRT), he arrived early enough to visit the palace and fulfill the wish of a lifetime. It was an emotional visit because Oudor Meanchey is the area where the genocidal regime of the Khmer Rouge — under whose 1975 to 1979 rule some 1.7 million people perished — had its last days.

Going around the palace grounds, Song looked upset at times and took deep breaths at others. He looked like he had unresolved problems on his mind. He would have been able to visit the palace a long time ago, but recalls that the war made him lose “everything”. His five-year-old son and four-year-old daughter died of hunger during the Pol Pot regime, he said, relating a story similar to that of many of the victims of the genocidal conflict in this South-east Asian country of more than 14 million people. There is now a possibility, though long delayed, of justice finally coming to the victims of the Khmer Rouge, but Song says he will believe that only when the trial gets underway.

“I want to know and see with my own eyes what Khmer Rouge leaders answer to the international court,” he said. “But I, as well as my fellow villagers, do not think that the trial would happen because it has been ten years already since they (the Cambodian government and the UN) started planning.” The trials were expected to start this year, but disagreements over procedures, fees and other issues have caused delays. Officials say the trials are unlikely to start before 2008.

Reach Sambath, spokesman for the KRT, confirmed that from May 31-June 13, the rules committee is meeting to adopt the internal rules for the proceedings. “We hope that the meeting will have a positive result that is a good sign to show that the KRT are moving forward,” Sambath said. “Now we do not have any more problems that could cause a deadlock to the process.”

Nou Tharith, CBA deputy secretary general and spokesman, says he does not see any problem that could further stall the KRT. Apart from the palace, Song wants to visit the Extraordinary Chambers in the Courts of Cambodia (ECCC) where the trials of senior Khmer Rouge leaders are to be held. Sambath says that so far, more than 10,000 visitors, both national and international, have come to visit the court complex since 2006.

“Every Tuesday, they do not need to inform in advance. They can just come to the gates and tell the security and then we will let them in,” Sambath says. On other days visitors need to give notice before coming. “We strongly believe that this trial at least could bring justice to the victims, their relatives and to those of us who were also the victims of the Pol Pot regime,” said Song. “And it is a lesson for the young generation to learn and to prevent such a cruel regime (from coming to power again).” — IPS