Cambodia: International Attention Once Again Focuses On Khmer Rouge Trials


Milton Osborne

In the absence of any dramatic domestic developments during June, international and particularly Australian media attention has centred on the trial of Nuon Paet for the 1994 kidnapping and murder of three Western tourists, including an Australian, David Wilson. On 6 June, after a short trial, Nuon Paet was sentenced to life imprisonment.

Important as this trial was to the families of the murdered men, it also needs to be viewed in relation to the broader issue of how the Hun Sen government will handle the prosecution of other much more senior former Khmer Rouge figures. Following the trial, the government prosecutor announced that he will seek to indict other figures associated with the murder of the Western tourists. And it seems certain that Ta Mok will be brought to trial, as will Duch, the man who was in charge of the infamous Tuoi Sieng extermination centre.

As yet, Hun Sen does not seem too have made up his mind what to do in relation to men such as Khieu Samphan, Nuon Chhea and Ieng Sary. All three still are enjoying immunity in the Palin region, which is essentially outside the control of the Phnom Penh government. The resolution of this issue is central to whether Cambodia continues to be dominated by a 'culture of impunity'.

Although there have been no dramatic developments, there has, at least, been one economic ray of light that deserves attention, The latest report on Cambodia by the Asian Development Bank (ADB) is very cautiously optimistic. After listing an intimidating series of present and future problems - including a lack of skilled personnel, poor forestry management, and at 2.7 per cent of the population, the highest rate of HIV/AIDS infection in Southeast Asia - the ADB adds an essential caveat: improvement in the economy depends on a readiness to institute much needed reform throughout all sectors of government.

WATCHPOINT: Serious political tensions are unlikely to re-emerge because of the lack of any issues to trigger them.


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