A second former prominent Khmer Rouge official in a week yesterday questioned the point of spending millions to prosecute aging and ailing former leaders of the movement, saying impoverished Cambodia has higher priorities.
While agreeing a trial should eventually be held, addressing issues such as poverty, land grabbing and environmental problems should be higher priorities, Suong Sikoeun, an official at the foreign affairs ministry during the Democratic Kampuchea regime and one of the movement's so-called intellectuals, said in an interview at his home in Malai in Cambodia's remote northwest.
Sikoeun, now 70, said the principle of a trial was good, if only because it may highlight issues and prevent crimes against humanity which occurred under the Khmer Rouge from happening again. But he said it was frivolous at this point to throw tens of millions of dollars at history, when the factors which allowed the infamous regime to rise in the first place remained unaddressed.
"There are two points to holding a trial of former Khmer Rouge leaders; to find justice for the dead, and to prevent those killings and bad things from happening again," Sikoeun said.
"I support a trial ... However for myself, I think the trial should not be the first priority for Cambodia now. The first priority should be to solve the problems of the people not having enough food to eat, of droughts and floods, of land grabbing, etcetera."
Sikoeun, who held a senior position in the ultra-Maoist regime's foreign ministry in Phnom Penh between 1975 to 1978, has not been suggested as a candidate for trial.
According to the agreement between the UN and Cambodia, the international community was to pay US$43 million toward the proposed US$56.3 million budget for a trial of former top leaders of the Khmer Rouge, which ruled Cambodia between 1975 and 1979.
Cambodia was supposed to cover the remaining US$13 million, but has since said it cannot afford more than US$1.5 million.
Its appeals for the international community to cover the shortfall has so far fallen on deaf ears, stalling progress toward an international-standard tribunal getting underway.
Advocates of a trial have said that justice for those responsible for the deaths of nearly 2 million Cambodians from starvation, disease, overwork, torture and execution under during the regime's rule will teach new generations of Cambodians accountability and is vital if the country is to move forward from its violent past.
They note that the movement's former leader, Pol Pot, died in 1998 and that many other potential candidates are elderly and suffer from ill health, making it vital to hold a trial sooner rather than later or risk not having one at all.
However Sikoeun argued that a trial would use up vital funds for a country in which the majority still survive on less than a dollar a day that could instead be used to address the problems that sent people such as himself in search of political alternatives in the first place and brought him to ultra-Maoism and the Khmer Rouge.