Cambodia: Khmer Rouge Trials In Sight?


Dr Milton Osborne

Contrary to the expectations of many observers in Phnom Penh, Cambodian and United Nations officials announced on 17 March that they had reached an agreement that could lead to the trial of Khmer Rouge leaders for the terrible crimes committed during the Pol Pot regime.

Full details of the agreement have yet to be made public, but it would appear that the chief United Nations negotiator, Hans Corell, has accepted at least some of the Cambodian demands that had previously been sticking points. These relate, in particular, to the extent to which Cambodia will have a final say on legal issues before the tribunal.

However, the agreement reached does not bring a tribunal into existence, and Corell has stated that what has been agreed ‘is only a beginning’. The agreement must receive approval from both the General Assembly and from the Cambodian parliament. But the parliament is not expected to consider the issue until after general elections in July 2003.

Scepticism over the likelihood that the tribunal will be established has always been related to the belief that Prime Minister Hun Sen doesn’t really want it. Also there is the belief that China, an important political and economic supporter of the present government, is opposed to Khmer Rouge leaders being put on trial because of its close links to the Pol Pot regime. It would certainly be unwise to assume that this latest development represents a ‘done deal’.

Meanwhile, shock waves from the anti-Thai riots of late January continue to be felt in Phnom Penh. There is no unanimity among observers as to which individual or group was behind what, in part at least, was an orchestrated event. There is, however, general agreement that the actions involving the destruction of the Thai embassy and buildings linked to Thai business interests are in some sense a reflection of splits within the governing Cambodian Peoples’ Party (CPP). Some commentators have gone so far as to suggest that pro-Vietnamese elements in the CPP engineered the riots to remind the government that, for all the money that Thai interests have poured into Cambodia, Vietnam should still be regarded as Cambodia’s most important foreign friend.

There are also fresh concerns about political violence as the date for the general elections draws nearer.

WATCHPOINT: With the possibility of increased violence it is likely that there will be little progress in relation to the Khmer Rouge tribunal for some time to come.


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