Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Ambivalence about Khmer Rouge Trials

Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Ambivalence about Khmer Rouge Trials

Article excerpt

As the international community presses for trials of the architects of the brutal Khmer Rouge regime, Cambodians have mixed emotions about the prospects for the nation surviving such a pursuit of justice.

It is mainly foreigners - who wouldn't be here in Cambodia to feel the consequences of a new war that might break out between government loyalists and supposedly reformed Khmer Rouge defectors - who want these trials.

It's not that we don't want justice. There isn't a Cambodian alive untouched by the Khmer Rouge polices that led to the deaths of about a million people from 1975 to 1979. I, for example, lost half of my relatives and scores of acquaintances under the Khmer Rouge rule. My father was killed in the crossfire of its guerrilla war in 1973. But a premature push for justice might claim more lives than it avenges. For just this reason, the Cambodian Government initiated an amnesty for two Khmer Rouge leaders - Khieu Samphan and Nuon Chea - who surrendered in December. The international outrage over this contrasted sharply with the mixed feelings of Cambodians, who have strong reservations about trials now and are afraid of a new war. Any trial of these two men would inevitably focus attention on other Khmer Rouge members active between 1975 and 1979. This would be a dangerous matter because so many of the regime's killers have changed their colors and have filtered into almost every level of Cambodian society. Many left the Khmer Rouge to become high-ranking officials in the government army, and federal and regional governments. Cambodian leaders do not welcome the proposal by the international community to form an international tribunal to prosecute those long- ago crimes by the Khmer Rouge. The people who rule Cambodia today are former Khmer Rouge members - they may have eventually left Pol Pot, but most certainly were part of the regime responsible for the deaths of about a million Cambodians. It would be impossible to have an international tribunal without consequences that affect the balance of power. …

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