- The Washington Times - Wednesday, December 27, 2000

BANGKOK Debate begins this week in Cambodia's National Assembly on a bill that would establish a tribunal to try accused Khmer Rouge leaders amid growing doubts whether anyone will ever be brought to justice.

Cambodian lawmakers finished reviewing a draft of the legislation establishing the tribunal early this month. The floor debate scheduled to start this week is to end in a vote by the full Assembly.

Passage would pave the way for a trial next year of the former Khmer Rouge leaders, who are blamed for the deaths of more than 1.5 million people during their ultra-Maoist rule from 1975 to 1979.

Under the formula outlined in the bill, Cambodia and the United Nations would administer the tribunal, with each side contributing judges and prosecutors to the trial.

The co-prosecutors one Cambodian, one foreign would jointly issue indictments. Disputes between the prosecutors would be adjudicated by a panel of three Cambodian and two foreign judges.

Yet the former Khmer Rouge leaders might never be held accountable.

Prime Minister Hun Sen, who was a low-ranking member when he defected from the Khmer Rouge in 1977, has told reporters that he will block any effort to try Ieng Sary, who was the third-highest member of the Khmer Rouge.

Hun Sen said that Ieng Sary must be rewarded for defecting, along with many of his soldiers, from the Khmer Rouge to the government in 1996. That action effectively crushed the Khmer Rouge, which was entrenched in western Cambodia, and ended the nation's civil war.

Hun Sen also warned that a trial of Ieng Sary, who has many supporters, could threaten Cambodia's fragile sociopolitical stability. Cambodia is already on edge after a group of armed men stormed government buildings and an army base in the capital last month, killing eight persons.

"If there is any attempt to prosecute Ieng Sary, it may lead to war again," Hun Sen said.

He said Cambodia should pursue other former Khmer Rouge leaders like Ta Mok, the one-legged fighter dubbed "the butcher" who had been a top military commander.

But many foreign-aid workers in Phnom Penh question whether even Ta Mok will wind up in court.

Sen. John Kerry, Massachusetts Democrat, has visited Phnom Penh on several occasions to urge Cambodia to move faster in implementing the tribunal so that a trial could begin before aging leaders like Ta Mok pass away.

The leader of the Khmer Rouge, Pol Pot, died in the Cambodian jungle in 1998.

Mr. Kerry this year brokered several meetings between the United Nations and the government to iron out details of the proposed tribunal.

"This is a test," Mr. Kerry said of the tribunal. "It is a test that only the National Assembly and the government itself can successfully dictate the outcome of."

Another bad omen appeared last month when Jiang Zemin, the first Chinese president to visit Cambodia in 37 years, was warmly welcomed in Phnom Penh.

Though Chinese diplomats insisted the visit had nothing to do with the proposed tribunal, China, which was the primary supporter of the Khmer Rouge, has vehemently opposed a genocide trial, and Mr. Jiang may have emphasized China's position during his talks.

"China is providing a huge amount of aid to Cambodia," said one Cambodia analyst who put the figure at $200 million this year. "So its opinions now are very important to Hun Sen."

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