Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen warned yesterday that putting more Khmer Rouge cadres on trial for crimes committed during Pol Pot's 1975-79 rule could plunge the country back into civil war.
"I would prefer to see this tribunal fail instead of seeing war return to my country," Hun Sen, himself a former Khmer Rouge commander, said a day after the joint UN-Cambodian court resumed its trial of Pol Pot's prison chief.
Duch, former head of the S-21 prison where more than 14,000 "enemies" of the ultra-leftist revolution reportedly died, is the first of five ageing senior cadres to face trial 30 years after the end of Pol Pot's rule blamed for 1.7 million deaths in Cambodia.
Human rights groups have used this week's trial to push for investigations of more suspects, arguing that would ensure justice is delivered to millions of victims and survivors.
But Hun Sen, speaking at the opening of an industrial zone in the port of Sihanoukville, said the trials should not go beyond the five charged with war crimes and crimes against humanity.
"If as many as 20 Khmer Rouge are indicted to stand trial and war returns to Cambodia, who will be responsible for that?," he told the audience.
After Duch, the others awaiting trial are "Brother Number Two" Nuon Chea, ex-president Khieu Samphan and Ieng Sary, the foreign minister, and his wife.
They have denied any wrongdoing. Duch has expressed remorse for his victims, but said he was following orders.
The court admitted in January that a bid to go after more suspects was brushed aside by the Cambodian co-prosecutor, who argued it would not be good for national reconciliation.
A final ruling on the additional cases - details of which the court has not disclosed but the number of which has been put at six in media reports - is still pending. "The issue regarding the jurisdiction of the court and whether or not to have further suspects is complicated," said Helen Jarvis, an Australian working for the tribunal.
(China Daily 04/01/2009 page11)