Hun Sen: Cambodia's Mr. Justice?

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TIME: The U.S. is pushing you very hard on certain things. How do you feel about America as a country?

Hun Sen: I think it has changed, America, along with the others that once gave support to the Khmer Rouge. It's not me who has changed, but those who supported the Khmer Rouge 10 or 20 years ago. It took me 20 years to destroy the political and military organization of the Khmer Rouge and to bring the leaders of this organization to a court of law. But it is very regrettable that when we were fighting against them, when we were demanding that the leaders of the Khmer Rouge be brought to trial, there were some people in some countries, including America, who were against us. I feel happy that now we have a consensus on what we have been demanding for a long time. The remaining question is the court of law, which could be national or international.

TIME: Why is this so unclear now? It seems as though there's almost a deliberate confusion here--should it be international, should it be Cambodian? Your statements have been very contradictory in the last several months.

Hun Sen: The situation has been changing drastically, especially since we introduced the win-win policies to put an end to the movement of the Khmer Rouge. This situation led to defections, of both the rank-and-file-and the leaders. The defections led to a dispute within the Khmer Rouge ranks and killings among those criminals. And that also led to an end of this Khmer Rouge organization and the opportunity for the arrest of the leaders. So here we have to be cautious in order to avoid any panic that could occur among the leaders of the Khmer Rouge. But that does not mean we have ended our quest to have justice done. At the same time we do not want any dispute among foreigners on the question of an international court of law. We have to know the real nature of the Khmer Rouge problem. One has to look at where it began and where it ended. I wonder whether there is any political point behind the court of law. If we are not cautious enough, then some leaders of the Khmer Rouge will feel panicked and go back into the jungle and wage war again.

TIME: Nobody in Cambodia wants to fight anymore. If they go back to the jungle, their soldiers will say bye-bye. Your great achievement is that you have persuaded the rank-and-file Khmer Rouge that fighting is not a good way forward. So why be afraid of their leaders? They have no power.

Hun Sen: If everyone decides so, it would be good. But we should not be too subjective. The question is what type of court it will be. Some people say that they have no confidence in Cambodian courts of law. It is their right to say so, but do they have concern for our feelings? If foreigners have the right to lack confidence in Cambodian courts of law, we Cambodians also have the right to lack confidence in an international court of law. Why? Because those who would mandate an international court used to support the Khmer Rouge. The hot debate which took place in 1987 until October 1991 was on the participation or non-participation of the Khmer Rouge in government. We demanded the inclusion in the Paris Peace Accords of a ban on the return of the genocidal regime; we demanded the destruction of the political and military organization of the Khmer Rouge. But we were forced then to accept them in the political solution. So in this context we also have our right not to have confidence in the international court of law.

TIME: So you think an international court is impossible?

Hun Sen: It is their right to have discussions of this topic at the U.N. Security Council or other forums, but we prefer a national court of law. We would appeal for assistance from international lawyers for our court. Those who used to support the Khmer Rouge before can send their lawyers to defend the Khmer Rouge at the court of law in Cambodia.

TIME: So you would not expect a trial outside Cambodia.

Hun Sen: Yes, that's right. I would like to share with you some of the reasons behind that. Firstly, we do not have confidence in a so-called international court of law, which would be managed by those who used to support the Khmer Rouge. Secondly, there would not be any hope of establishing an international court of law because there would be some countries which would veto or abstain in the U.N. Security Council. So if such a court of law could not be established, how long should we keep [recently arrested Khmer Rouge leader] Ta Mok? Thirdly, we have been trying to dismantle the political and military organization of the Khmer Rouge, so we should be given this right. We are entitled to put an end to that. Fourthly, the legal framework: it is prohibited by the constitution of Cambodia for any Cambodian to be arrested and then sent abroad. The fifth reason is that the people who committed the crimes are Cambodians, the victims were Cambodians and the place in which these acts happened was Cambodia, so the court of law that would take responsibility for this case should be a Cambodian court. But we would appeal for financial and technical assistance from friendly countries or from any countries that would like to help us.

TIME: We went to your village on Sunday and discovered that the Khmer Rouge tried several times to burn your house down in the early 1990s and also killed your father-in-law. What do feel personally about the Khmer Rouge now? Do have anger and hatred in your heart toward them?

Hun Sen: Not only me, but the people of Cambodia as a whole. They still feel angry and can never forget the crimes that the Khmer Rouge committed against them. I lost my first child during Pol Pot's time, and one of my in-laws was killed. And many of my uncles and nephews were killed. But if we simply take revenge on these people, if we just kill these people, will we have peace? We must find justice for the Cambodian people through a court of law against those leaders of genocide.

TIME: But how many leaders? You have Ta Mok. How many others have to be called into a court of law?

Hun Sen: I am a politician. I have no right to charge anyone. The question of charging anyone rests with the prosecutors. Ta Mok was arrested, while the others surrendered. Even those who surrendered, who were not arrested, are not politically exempt from being charged by the prosecutors. I did not give any guarantee to any person--including my wife and children--that they will not face charges if they have committed a crime.

TIME: So would you send your prosecutors to arrest someone if there was a warrant from the prosecutor?

Hun Sen: I hope that these people are preparing themselves to come before a court, so there will be no need for us to arrest them. I think I should refrain from saying that this or that person should be brought to court, because that is the right of the prosecutors. The executive has no right to hinder or to give any orders to the court. Even President Clinton, as the chief of the executive branch in America, had no right to obstruct the proceedings of the court in the case of Monica Lewinsky. And me in the same way.

TIME: So do you think these remaining Khmer Rouge leaders sleep happily in Pailin, or are they a bit nervous these days?

Hun Sen: To my knowledge they do not feel happy. One said, "I'm sorry, I'm very sorry." I don't think that is enough. I think those people are now thinking about what they should do for justice for the Cambodian people. I think they are also thinking of their defense once they have been charged.

TIME: Mr. Ta Mok will be tried in a Cambodian court. Will you charge him with membership in the Khmer Rouge or with crimes committed during the Pol Pot period?

Hun Sen: We cannot avoid looking at such activities during the period from 1975 to 1979. The main reason for Ta Mok's arrest is the crimes against humanity that occurred then.

TIME: Your daughter has married, your son is about to graduate from West Point, you've got ASEAN membership coming up, you've had a successful aid-donor meeting in Tokyo. And most importantly, for the first time in 30 years, Cambodia is at peace. This has been quite a good year for you. How do you feel?

Hun Sen: I see it as a success for my new government. Normally any new government is given 100 days to prepare its people, to prepare everything for its work. Yesterday was the 100th day of my government, and we have achieved a lot more than expected. We have to look to the future, we have to look to the new century, we have to look for ways to develop our nation. And so the situation in Cambodia is very good--the way we are finding reconciliation within our society, the way we have put an end to the Khmer Rouge problem, the way we are seeking assistance for the development of our nation. Everything is for the happiness of the people. Putting an end to the Khmer Rouge, an organization which has existed for more than half a century, is a very big issue in Cambodia. The Khmer Rouge was the cause of instability in Cambodia, the cause of death and of people being maimed. If you study the history of wars in any country in the world, I think it is unique that in Cambodia the ministers, the deputy prime ministers, the prime minister, the chairman of the national assembly and the head of state of the former regime surrendered to the government. It is also unique that we could arrest the leaders, the commanders who caused the war. In World War II no one could arrest Hitler. It is fortunate for my new government, but in reality it fortunate for the Cambodian people as a whole.

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