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Cambodia: Disputes, delays and death

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15 March 2013 09:31

Hard on the heels of fresh evidence of disputes about the judicial reach of the Khmer Rouge Tribunal (the Extraordinary Chambers of the Courts of Cambodia), has come the news of the death of Ieng Sary (pictured), the former foreign minister of the Democratic Kampuchean regime, or Pol Pol's government. He was 87.

Like Pol Pot, Ieng Sary adopted his lifelong commitment to his vision of communism while a student in France in the 1950s, where he was a founder of the Cercle Marxiste that drew together many of the later prominent figures in the Khmer Rouge regime. He was also a member of the French Communist Party while living in Paris.

An alternate member of the Communist Party of Kampuchea's Standing Committee from 1960, he was the public international face of the Khmer Rouge regime while it held power. He later defected to Hun Sen in 1996, but the amnesty granted to him at this stage was overridden for him to be brought before the Khmer Rouge Tribunal.

His death is not unexpected as he had been in poor health for years, and it underlines the widely held fear that he, along with his fellow accused before the tribunal, will die of old age and sickness before verdicts are handed down against them.

Meanwhile, the efforts of international judges serving in the Khmer Rouge Tribunal to bring at least two further cases before it are being opposed both by the determination of Prime Minister Hun Sen to prevent this happening and a lack of cooperation between Cambodian and international judges.

A recently appointed American judge, Mark Harmon, is seeking to overcome the opposition to new cases being opened, despite Cambodian opposition. As detailed by the Voice of America, those Judge Harmon is seeking to bring with the tribunal's purview are alleged to have sent victims to the notorious extermination centre known as S-21 or Tuol Sleng. The men involved, both former Khmer Rouge generals, are currently advisers to the Cambodian Ministry of Defence.

Given Hun Sen's iron grip on power it is difficult to see his wishes contradicted. But Judge Harmon and others will at least make clear that there is an issue that deserves the international community's attention.

Photo courtesy of the ECCC.

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