A day after the Khmer Rouge tribunal announced the possibility of more suspects to be investigated under the UN-backed court, a former rebel commander said he would face the court if called but denied any wrongdoing and questioned the value of such a procedure.
In a phone interview with VOA Khmer, the commander, Meas Muth, 70, who led the regime’s Division 164, said he was already growing old and his role was many years ago.
Meas Muth has been named by historians as a possible suspect for atrocity crimes indictments if the tribunal expands its scope beyond five former Khmer Rouge currently in custody. He currently lives in a remote village in Samlot district, Battambang province, having reintegrated into the government in 1996.
The Pre-Trial Chamber of the court allowed the possibility of more indictments to move to investigating judges, failing to reach a super-majority of disagreement on a motion by international prosecution. The prosecution will now send its submission to the investigating judges.
Meas Muth denied any wrongdoing in an interview the following day, Friday, saying there had been deaths under his watch “of sickness, fever, lightning drowning.”
“It’s normal,” he said. “But for someone to arrest and shoot dead for no reason, in my area this seemed not to exist.”
Former leaders like Meas Muth are at the center of a debate for the court, with Prime Minister Hun Sen and other Cambodian officials and judges warning that further indictments could lead to instability or war.
Thursday’s Pre-Trial Chamber decision may not be in line with the wishes of Hun Sen and others, an observer said Friday, but provides some political cover for Cambodian officials, who made amnesty deals with some Khmer Rouge commanders in the late 1990s to end the war.
It remains to be seen how the investigating judges will proceed with the prosecution’s list.
“We do not know whether there will be submissions for more suspects and charged persons,” Lars Olsen, a spokesman for the tribunal, told reporters.
Court observers say six more suspects are likely to be named as additional suspects, including Van Rith, 70, a close aid to Pol Pot, as well as Meas Muth.
Meas Muth said charges against him were not acceptable, as he was defending the country from foreign invasion.
“I have never opposed or attacked anyone except those who violated and invaded my own country,” he said. “And if they accuse me of any war crimes whatsoever, then I understand that anyone who defends their territory….they are just war criminals?”
The US bombed Cambodia and Vietnam, he said. “Why is that not a war crime? Why is it a war crime when Cambodia defends its own territory?”