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From Wary Former Soldiers, Mixed Tribunal Reaction

An unidentified former soldier looks on near the once Khmer Rouge-stronghold border town of Pailin.
An unidentified former soldier looks on near the once Khmer Rouge-stronghold border town of Pailin.

Former Khmer Rouge commanders in Cambodia say the government should stick by an amnesty deal it made with the guerrillas in 1996, as a trial for top leaders of the regime is expected to start in earnest later this year.

A preliminary hearing this week has brought the amnesty question to the forefront, as lawyers for Ieng Sary, former foreign minister of the regime, argued he was exempt from trial under the government’s amnesty.

Sok Pheap Dep, a two-star general who is on Cambodia’s joint border committee and former Khmer Rouge commander at Phnom Malai, told VOA Khmer by phone Wednesday he had defected with Ieng Sary and was watching the tribunal closely. While amnesty was a state affair, he said, finding justice is the job of the court.

“The nation requires what should be done accordingly,” he said. “The promises or whatever is another issue. But the issue of people complaining? What to do?”

Yim Phanna, the a former rebel and current chief of Anlong Veng district in Oddar Meanchey province, said the hearings demonstrated how top leaders “must be brave and take responsibility for what happened in the regime they led.” Soldiers these days, he said, are more concerned with making a daily living and were not surprised by the arrests of the top leaders.

Thousands of former Khmer Rouge still live in the country’s northwest region, the last stronghold of the regime before mass defections to the government crippled its effort in a conflict that had lasted 20 years. In exchange, the government promised none of them would be prosecuted, and one leader, Ieng Sary, was granted a royal pardon over guilty charges handed down by a Vietnamese-supported court in 1979.

Tribunal spokesman Huy Vannak said one of the court’s main purposes is to seek justice for victims and to understand how the killing fields came about.

A former Khmer Rouge administrator now living in the northwest, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said he wanted the leaders tried as soon as possible.

“They can still tell the truth,” he said. “Otherwise, we lose that.”