Wed, Jan 07, 2009 - Page 5 News List

Rights group lambasts Cambodia

AFP , PHNOM PENH

A rights group accused Cambodia’s government of obstructing a UN-backed tribunal of former Khmer Rouge leaders yesterday, as the country prepared to celebrate 30 years since the fall of the regime.

Cambodia’s ruling party is planning large-scale celebrations tomorrow to mark three decades since the day in 1979 when Vietnamese-led forces drove the brutal Khmer Rouge out of the capital.

But New York-based Human Rights Watch said even though war crimes trials of five ex-Khmer Rouge leaders are expected to begin this year, impunity remained in Cambodia while Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen “has done his best to thwart justice.”

“After 30 years, no one has been tried, convicted or sentenced for the crimes of one of the bloodiest regimes of the 20th century,” said Brad Adams, Asia director at Human Rights Watch, in a statement obtained yesterday.

The group called the upcoming Khmer Rouge trials “deeply flawed,” citing allegations of job-selling among court personnel and the fact there are cases against only five suspects.

The court will soon rule whether to broaden investigations after a disagreement between the co-prosecutors on whether to pursue additional Khmer Rouge leaders.

International prosecutor Robert Petit wishes to open more cases against other suspects but his Cambodian counterpart, Chea Leang, does not want more investigations because of the country’s “past instability and the continued need for national reconciliation,” said a court statement on Monday.

Petit said that the disagreement shows there is healthy debate within the court and that its mechanisms are working.

But Human Rights Watch said it showed an interfering political hand, since there was no reason to believe additional cases would threaten Cambodia’s stability.

“On the 30th anniversary of the Khmer Rouge’s fall from power, the Cambodian government is playing games,” Adams said. “This is a transparently political attempt to stop the court from doing its work.”

Cambodian government spokesman Khieu Kanharith denied it had obstructed trials of more Khmer Rouge leaders, and alleged that Human Rights Watch’s criticisms were politically biased.

The ruling Cambodian People’s Party is gearing up for major celebrations tomorrow, with more than 50,000 people expected at a stadium ceremony in Phnom Penh.

As many as two million people died from overwork, starvation, torture and execution as the 1975-1979 Khmer Rouge regime sought to create a Communist utopia.

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