The unlamented death in Phnom Penh last week of Ieng Sary is notable in several ways. During the 1,360 black days of Khmer Rouge rule in the late 1970s, Ieng Sary was the public face of the "Angka", the rightfully feared organisation that dictated every detail of every Cambodian's life and death. More recently, as a defendant, he became the centre of the shabby tribunal that has failed to provide either justice or closure for the battered nation.
The constantly smiling, well-educated Ieng Sary was largely responsible for hoodwinking many people in the late 1970s. He fooled dozens of countries and thousands of diplomats and journalists into accepting his big lie that the rule of Pol Pot _ his brother-in-law _ was just a system of agrarian reform.
In fact, Ieng Sary was a key member of what was arguably the most brutal regime, ever. Ieng Sary and the Khmer Rouge were not just responsible for the deaths of some two-sevenths of the entire population of a country. The worse horror is that it was their own country.
Ieng Sary was one of roughly a dozen young Cambodians who ultimately became the worst type of traitor to the nation. Bright and ambitious as youths, the group that became the Khmer Rouge were rewarded with scholarships by the king. They went abroad to learn, in a programme paid for entirely by King Sihanouk and the Cambodian people. They learned Marxism, guerrilla warfare and hatred for their own country. They returned from abroad and ruined it.
Ieng Sary's perversion was his ability to conspire with Pol Pot and others to write brutal policy, and then with a friendly smile spin it to outsiders as benign.
Before Vietnam finally became incensed with the constant cross-border massacres and ended the existence of "Democratic Kampuchea", far more than a million Cambodians were dead as a direct result of Khmer Rouge policies. Even after that, Ieng Sary travelled the world and sat for years at the United Nations as "foreign minister" of the anti-Hanoi government in exile.
Pol Pot died in 1998, probably poisoned by a fellow communist. Slowly, Ieng Sary and other survivors were found. Several were arrested. The UN and many member countries fought to set up a tribunal to round up, arrest and convict the Khmer Rouge leaders.
The result has been a farce.
No important Khmer Rouge has been convicted, largely because the post-war government of Cambodia opposed the tribunal and hindered its proceedings. The court is not functioning because the government is not paying its employees. Their strike ended yesterday after a promise to get their December pay this week.
A handful of top Khmer Rouge policy makers remain alive, none of them much known outside Cambodia. The Khmer Rouge, it is said, is dead. But perhaps only its founders and most extreme rulers are actually finished.
From Hun Sen down, the one-time followers of Ieng Sary and Pol Pot rule the country. The ministers of defence, foreign affairs, interior and finance are Khmer Rouge officers, as are thousands of government functionaries. Justice and closure for the victims of Pol Pot's rule remains unlikely.