Wednesday, 16 January 2008

Cambodia genocide tribunal holds town hall meeting in former Khmer Rouge stronghold

The Associated Press
January 16, 2008

Officials from Cambodia's genocide tribunal held a town hall-style meeting Wednesday in the Khmer Rouge's former heartland to persuade neighbors of the regime's ex-rulers to help with the trials.

Judges and officials from the U.N.-backed tribunal held the meeting at a Buddhist temple on a hillside near Pailin, a derelict town near the northwestern border with Thailand where ex-Khmer Rouge leaders set up homes and lived for decades as ordinary citizens until last year.

Five senior figures of the Khmer Rouge, whose radical policies led to the deaths of some 1.7 million people in the 1970s, were arrested last year and are awaiting long-delayed genocide trials to begin in the capital, Phnom Penh. The trials are scheduled to start this year.

More than 100 residents attended the question-and-answer session, the first activity of its kind conducted in Cambodia.

Tribunal officials hope the meeting will dispel fears that low-ranking former Khmer Rouge will become targets of the court. Officials hope to gain the valuable input of Pailin villagers as investigations continue into the alleged crimes of Khmer Rouge leaders.

Before the meeting got under way, officials distributed brochures titled, "An Introduction to the Trial of Khmer Rouge Leaders," which showed a picture of villagers in the 1980s discovering a pile of skulls.

"I can't read," said a 50-year-old woman, Chin Peap, before the meeting started. "But this picture shows the killing during the Khmer Rouge era."

The Buddhist temple where the meeting took place is the site of a 1996 ceremony that integrated ex-Khmer Rouge soldiers into the national army. The ceremony, presided over by Prime Minister Hun Sen, was billed by the government as a gesture to end more than two decades of civil war.

The regime's notorious leader, Pol Pot, died in 1988.

Pol Pot's surviving deputies — Kaing Guek Eav, Nuon Chea, Ieng Sary, Ieng Thirith and Khieu Samphan — are being held in the tribunal's custom-built jail in Phnom Penh on charges of war crimes and crimes against humanity.

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