Members of Cambodia’s Cham and Vietnamese groups in Phnom Penh welcomed word from the Khmer Rouge tribunal this week that regime leaders in custody will be charged with genocide, as well as other atrocity crimes.
In interviews with VOA Khmer Thursday, Chams and Vietnamese alike said they expected the charges of genocide to help bring reconciliation to their communities.
The tribunal announced on Wednesday it would add genocide charges to the dockets of Nuon Chea and Ieng Sary, for the mass killings of Chams and Vietnamese.
(On Friday, judges announced they would also add the charge for Khieu Samphan, the former head of state. Ieng Thirith, a fourth leader in custody, has not yet had a hearing, but she is expected to face the same charge.)
Genocide is an intentional attempt to eradicate, in part or in whole, a minority ethnic or religious group. The tribunal is preparing a case against all four leaders of the regime, having finished the trial of Kaing Kek Iev, or Duch, the former administrator of Tuol Sleng prison.
Both Chams and Vietnamese were singled out by the Khmer Rouge. Between 100,000 and 400,000 Chams were killed as the regime rose to power, according to the Documentation Center of Cambodia.
An unknown number of Vietnamese were killed, especially in border skirmishes after the guerrillas rose to power, in April 1975. Hundreds of Vietnamese died at Tuol Sleng.
Tror Yeth, a 40-year-old teacher of Cham literature in the capital’s Russei Keo district, who lost six family members to the Khmer Rouge, said he was “very happy” with the added charge.
“It means justice will be found, and especially for Muslim victims,” he said as he stood at the door of his classroom, where a dozen students were learning to read.
Shutting down a table saw and tucking a pen behind his right ear, Van Cai, a carpenter in Chamkar Mon district, considered the news. An uncountable number of Cambodians and Vietnamese had died under the Khmer Rouge, he said.
“My aunts and my uncles, a total of four or five people, were killed in Tuol Sleng,” he said, his Khmer pitched with a Vietnamese accent. “[The Khmer Rouge] killed people. It is right to try them. We are waiting for the day when they will be tried.”