A disservice to Cambodians

A disservice to Cambodians

The great tragedy of Cambodia came during the 1,360 days when it was ruled by the Khmer Rouge. Pol Pot and his small clique imposed the worst tyrannies of the time. The regime brought about the deaths of more than 2 million, enslaved the survivors and oversaw policies often described as "auto-genocide" of its own citizens. It is disgraceful, however, that today's government continues to deny facts and closure to the nation, especially those who suffered under the Khmer Rouge.

Last week, Cambodian employees of the war crimes tribunal revealed they have not been paid for two months. The government of Prime Minister Hun Sen claimed, in effect, it did not have enough money. Like hundreds of similar roadblocks in the past, the salary issue is designed to slow the work of the Extraordinary Chambers in the Court of Cambodia, as the tribunal is known officially.

The Cambodian government's ongoing battle against the court is arguably unique in modern times. Hun Sen heads a government that succeeded the Khmer Rouge. Logically, he and his government want to expose the Khmer Rouge regime, uncover its crimes, establish blame for its murderous and otherwise failed policies, and punish its leaders. But it hasn't worked out that way.

The court and Hun Sen's government have fought from the start. The government continues to block the tribunal whenever and however it can, as the pay issue demonstrates. The government could, and should, show leadership in this sad effort to examine the past, to make certain it is never repeated. It should encourage and aid the attempt to speak truth about the former power of the Khmer Rouge, and bring closure to the Cambodian people, first and foremost to those who suffered.

There is much speculation about every attempt by Hun Sen's government to impede and discourage the war crimes tribunal. First and most important is the fact the prime minister was an officer in the Khmer Rouge, as were many members of his government and top civil servants. Hun Sen defected from the Pol Pot forces to the Vietnamese army, but the feeling inside Cambodia is that he fears an honest, open investigation by the tribunal could turn up unpleasant or embarrassing facts.

The court has tried and convicted one defendant. Khmer Rouge prison chief Kaing Guek Eav, better known as Duch, who carried out war crimes and deserved his term of life imprisonment. But he was just a tool of the Pol Pot regime. Hun Sen and supporters have succeeded in keeping the terms and powers of the court narrow. Only three other men are currently on trial and the government has succeeded in stopping the investigations of those three. No other case has been scheduled.

The court and outside investigators have turned up much evidence. There are few secrets left of the Khmer Rouge times. But even the three officials on trial are ageing faster than their cases are proceeding.

The chances that Cambodians can find closure on the terrible times of the late 1970s grow slimmer by the day. Hun Sen's government is not paying court employees. They also are not paying due attention to the facts and verdicts due to their people.

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