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Indict No More: Former Rebel Commander

With five Khmer Rouge leaders in jail, and potential further indictments delayed indefinitely, many former soldiers of the regime continue to live among their victims.

Meas Muth, a 70-year-old former Khmer Rouge division commander, would be a possible suspect under a wider indictment scheme. But he believes that charges against the leaders already in custody—Noun Chea, Khieu Samphan, Ieng Sary, Ieng Thirith, and Duch—are enough.

“To add five, six or 10 more, or more than that, that’s not for justice, but to stir up Cambodia, causing instability,” he told VOA Khmer in an exclusive interview at his home near the Thai border. “In fact, until today, the situation pleases everyone.”

More indictments could include the real leader of the revolution, he said

“Everyone knows that His Majesty was the leader,” he said, referring to the former king, Norodom Sihanouk, who abdicated in 2004 but who also rallied peasants to the Khmer Rouge cause in the 1970s. “To bring in only five and not to bring in the chief, that is not a breakthrough. It’s just detention of the five for sale, or for nothing.”

Following his ouster, then-prince Norodom Sihanouk led a unified coalition, which included the Khmer Rouge, to retaliate against his political opponent, the US-backed prime minister, Lon Nol.

No one has publicly said the revered monarch should be indicted by the current tribunal. Experts, however, suggest that there were other cadre who could be tried under the tribunal’s rules.

Research conducted by Stephen Heder in 2001 found that Meas Muth, as commander of Division 164, one of only nine divisions, played a direct role in the arrest and transfer to Tuol Sleng prison of cadre suspected as traitorous to the regime.

The leader of that prison, Duch, whose real name is Kaing Kek Iev, is schedule for the first tribunal trial, next week, for crimes against humanity, war crimes, torture and murder.

At his home in Samlot district, Battambang province, a former Khmer Rouge zone, Meas Muth denied any wrongdoing as a commander for the government of Democratic Kampuchea. He also said he had nothing worth testifying to for the tribunal.

As it brokered peace with the Khmer Rouge to end of years of fighting, the government offered amnesty to soldiers of the regime, including those like Meas Muth.

The government was forced to change its position, however, as talks for a tribunal got underway and as investigating judges and prosecutors began seeking indictments.

Even then, the government and UN agreed that only senior leaders would be tried, but there is no clear interpretation of who those would be, creating what some lawyers fear is a loophole for many former cadre who defected to the government in 1996.

There has been no decision by the Pre-Trial Chamber of the tribunal court on whether to indict more senior leaders, a subject on which the Cambodian and foreign tribunal prosecutors disagree.

Cambodian prosecutor Chea Leang has said further indictments risk stability.

That position runs counter to just over half of Cambodians recently survey by the Documentation Center of Cambodia, which found 52 percent of 1,100 people wanted more indictments.

Meas Muth would have fallen under the other 48 percent, who say, whether because of budget or stability problems, that five is enough. For his part, he said, he now worked each day on his farm and had recently donated money for the improvement of a nearby pagoda.