Khmer Rouge crimes to be tried in a year

Between 1975 and 1979, the Khmer Rouge of Pol Pot killed two million people. Some Cambodians are for their trial. A well known psychiatrist counters: "I am worried the trials will reopen the wounds of torture victims."

Phnom Penh (AsiaNews/SCMP) – Around 400 Cambodians have gone to Phnom Penh to be among the first to see the new court which next year will try crimes committed by the Khmer Rouge nearly 30 years ago. "I came because I want justice for my wife and the other two million Cambodians who died," said 64-year old Bou Meng. "If this tribunal fails and they don't put the Khmer Rouge leaders in jail, then the hope of the Cambodian people, who have been waiting for this for years, will dissolve.

Soam Peou, a 60-year-old woman, also said she was happy to see the court, in which officials from the United Nations-Cambodia tribunal have explained how the trials will take place. She said: "This is important for the souls of the people who died so that they know it was not in vain."

Between 1975 and 1979, during the reign of the Khmer Rouge, nearly every single family in Cambodia lost someone. The head of the Communist regime was Pol Pot, who died in 1998. Pol Pot had seized power to drive foreign influence away from his country, but his revolution soon turned into a paranoid government that saw enemies everywhere, leading to the deaths of many Cambodians. No important Khmer Rouge leader has ever been prosecuted, except two commanders, Tak Mok, nicknamed "The Butcher", and Duch, who ran Phnom Penh's Tuol Sleng interrogation and torture centre. They were charged last year with war crimes, genocide and crimes against humanity. Now, 10 surviving commanders are set to be tried, but there are fears that some may die before the trials start or may use their influential contacts to avoid arrest.

The chief Cambodian administrator for the trials, Sean Visoth, promised justice would be delivered. He said the court would not tolerate claims, as a line of defence, by senior cadres that they were only following orders. "It is not an excuse the court will find acceptable," he said.

But not all Cambodians are happy about the trials: many want to forget the persecutions perpetrated by the Khmer Rouge, who tortured millions of innocent people apart from killing two million. Ka Sunbaunat, a well-known Cambodian psychiatrist who lost many relatives thanks to the Khmer Rouge, said the trials could reopen the wounds of those traumatized by torture. "I am worried," said the doctor, who has treated many people for psychiatric illness in recent decades. "Talking again about the past can re-traumatise those who are suffering from many kinds of mental health problems related to the genocide. Only a few of my patients say they want to prove who has committed these mistakes." The doctor added that the question of why Cambodians killed Cambodians may well remain unanswered.

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