March 31, 2009
PHNOM PENH - CAMBODIAN Prime Minister Hun Sen on Tuesday warned that his country would be plunged back into civil war if the current UN-backed Khmer Rouge genocide court pursued more suspects.
Mr Hun Sen, himself a former low-level commander for the communist movement, made his comments as the tribunal's first trial heard the regime's prison chief express remorse for his crimes.
Another four senior Khmer Rouge members are also being held by the tribunal but the Cambodian co-prosecutor has opposed pursuing six more suspects on the grounds it could destabilise the country.
'I would like to say that I prefer for this court to fail... I won't allow war to re-occur in Cambodia,' Mr Hun Sen said at the opening of a street named after him in the seaside town of Sihanoukville.
'It is my absolute position. So please try these few people (already in detention),' added Mr Hun Sen, who himself has never been implicated in any of the regime's crimes.
'For example, if we try 20 more people... the country will erupt into war killing hundreds of thousands of people. Who would resolve this problem?'
The Khmer Rouge were ousted by Vietnamese-led forces in 1979 after nearly four years of iron-fisted rule during which up to two million people died, but continued to fight a civil war until 1998.
The arrest of Khmer Rouge prison chief Duch - the first of five former regime leaders due to face trial - has been lauded by rights groups, but there have been allegations of interference by Mr Hun Sen's administration.
As judges mull whether to open cases against other Khmer Rouge members, the administration has been accused of trying to protect former cadres who are now in government.
After Duch's trial, the court plans to prosecute former Khmer Rouge ideologue Nuon Chea, head of state Khieu Samphan, foreign minister Ieng Sary and his wife, minister of social affairs Ieng Thirith. -- AFP