Thursday, January 15, 2009

Khmer Rouge trials to start soon

AM - Friday, 16 January , 2009
Reporter: Karen Percy
ABC Radio Australia

BRENDAN TREMBATH: In Cambodia the long awaited prosecutions of former Khmer Rouge officials accused of genocide in the 1970s are reaching a crucial stage. Lawyers are due to meet today to thrash out how the first trial will be run.
While some victims are keen to see justice done, many ordinary Cambodians would rather see the time and money spent improving their lives.

South East Asia correspondent Karen Percy reports.

KAREN PERCY: This month marks 30 years since the Khmer Rouge, the red communist Cambodians, were driven from power in Cambodia.

During their four year reign well over and half-a-million people died, accused of being spies for their country or for refusing to embrace the changes forced upon them by Pol Pot, the cold-blooded leader of the movement who wanted to build an agrarian utopia free of Western influence and meddling.

Today tourists flock to the killing field sites in Phnom Penh and elsewhere to view piles of skulls and bones and to walk among the dusty graves and soon they'll be able to see the Khmer Rouge accused.

In December the Khmer Rouge head of state Khieu Samphan was in court for a procedural hearing. He's now 77 and is ailing. But he maintains his innocence.

He's one of five former members of the KR who are set to face trial under the extraordinary chambers in the courts of Cambodia, a United Nations backed process more commonly known as the KR or genocide tribunal.

It is proving to be a laborious process, running several years and more than $100-million over budget. It's been dogged by funding shortfalls, internal bickering, and allegations of corruption.

But within a matter of months the first trial should begin.

BRUNO CARETTE: When the Khmer Rouge took power I was 20 years old. I was very impressed by this story...

KAREN PERCY: Bruno Carette is a Paris-based film maker who's released a feature on the genocide tribunals. He believes the role China and the US played in the region at that time needs to be addressed. The filmmaker says there is little popular support for the tribunal process.

BRUNO CARETTE: Nowadays Cambodia is trying to join the world. You know, they have been in war for 30 years, with this terrible story and most of the people are very poor and living with less than $1 per day, especially the farmers which are 90 per cent of the population. And they don't think this trial is necessary.

KAREN PERCY: Cambodia has come a long way since the Khmer Rouge time. It has one of the fastest growing economies in South-East Asia and it's rapidly changing.

But the tribunal is now getting down to the serious end of business and regardless of the critics it will deal with the country's dark past.

This is Karen Percy in Bangkok reporting for AM.


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