Cambodia's U.N.-backed Khmer Rouge tribunal has formally charged two more suspects with crimes against humanity, a development that comes days after Prime Minister Hun Sen warned against such a move.
The international investigating judge at the tribunal, Mark Harmon, Tuesday charged in absentia Meas Muth, the former naval commander for the regime, and Im Chaem, a former district commander who has said in the past she will not cooperate with the court.
Lars Olsen, a spokesman for the International Court, said the indictment means the defendants will now have access to case files and be able to participate in court hearings.
"Now they will be able to see the evidence against them. They will be able to challenge whatever actions and decisions made by the court and investigating judges."
Meas Muth was charged with homicide, enslavement and inhumane acts against foreigners at sea, as well as war crimes.
Ang Oddom, his defense lawyer, told VOA's Khmer service that the charges are not a big surprise.
“We have not decided what to do yet. We’re waiting to have a meeting with our team. But we’ve been waiting for this for a long time," he said.
Im Chaem was charged with murder, extermination and political persecution at the Phnom Trayoung security center, in Banteay Meanchey province. She was also charged with murder, enslavement and imprisonment at the Spean Sreng worksite.
However, Neth Pheaktra, a spokesman for the Cambodian side of the court, said it is not clear if the two suspects will be taken into custody.
“According to the legal procedure, the arrest or detention of a suspect can only be made so long as there is an agreement from the two investigating judges, the international and national investigating judges.”
The Cambodian investigating judge has not yet spoken in regards to the new charges.
Last week, Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen warned that pursuing more suspects could lead to a new conflict.
However, the tribunal, which began operations in 2006 and has since experienced funding issues, corruption and other scandals, has only convicted three Khmer Rouge members so far.
Khieu Samphan and Nuon Chea, who are currently in phase two of their trial, are the most senior leaders to be tried and convicted. In 2010, the tribunal convicted and sentenced to life in prison former Khmer Rouge prison chief Kaing Guek Eav, better known as "Duch," for his role in killing more than 14,000 while running the Tuol Sleng center in Phnom Penh.
As many as two million Cambodians died from starvation, overwork and executions during the four-year rule of the Khmer Rouge, which attempted to create an agrarian communist utopia.