Former Khmer Rouge leader faces justice tribunal

One of Cambodia’s brutal Khmer Rouge leaders was brought before a UN-backed genocide tribunal today.

One of Cambodia’s brutal Khmer Rouge leaders was brought before a UN-backed genocide tribunal today.

Ieng Sary, who served as foreign minister, and his wife face charges of crimes against humanity and war crimes.

Ieng Sary and his wife Ieng Thirith, who was minister for social affairs in the 1975-79 Khmer Rouge government, were served with arrest warrants at dawn at their home in the capital Phnom Penh and driven to the tribunal’s office. They will be held overnight for further questioning.

They became the third and fourth people to be arrested by the tribunal, officially called the Extraordinary Chambers in the Courts of Cambodia.

The radical policies of the communist Khmer Rouge are widely blamed for the deaths of some 1.7 million people from starvation, disease, overwork and execution. None of the group’s leaders has faced trial yet.

The arrests come almost three decades after the Khmer Rouge fell from power, with many fearing the ageing suspects may die before they ever see a courtroom. Trials are expected to begin next year.

At a trial conducted in 1979 under the auspices of Vietnam, which invaded Cambodia to remove the Khmer Rouge, Ieng Sary was sentenced to death in his absence. But the proceedings, in the fashion of a Soviet show trial, served the purposes of propaganda more than justice.

The UN-assisted tribunal was created last year after seven years of contentious negotiations between the United Nations and Cambodia. Prime Minister Hun Sen, once a Khmer Rouge officer himself, asked for help with a trial only in 1997, after enlisting surrendered Khmer Rouge officials as his political allies.

Ieng Sary and his wife were members of the inner circle of the Khmer Rouge. They were French-educated like its charismatic leader, the late Pol Pot, whose radicalism turned the country into a virtual charnel house. The connection was linked by marriage: Ieng Thirith’s sister Khieu Ponnary was Pol Pot’s first wife.

Besides being deputy prime minister and foreign minister, Ieng Sary was a member of the policy-making central committee.

He has also been accused of being personally responsible for luring home diplomats and intellectuals from overseas to join the revolution after the 1975 Khmer Rouge victory over a pro-US government. The people were arrested and put in re-education camps, and most were later executed.

His wife is accused of taking part in “planning, direction, coordination and ordering of widespread purges ... and unlawful killing or murder of staff members from within the Ministry of Social Affairs.”

When the Khmer Rouge lost power in 1979, Ieng Sary retreated with them to the jungles, from where they conducted a guerrilla war. In 1996, with the group’s forces in sharp decline, Ieng Sary defected with a large coterie of followers, effectively setting the stage for the total collapse of the Khmer Rouge two years later.

His belated turn of heart earned him a limited amnesty from then-King Norodom Sihanouk ,but one that officials have declared does not apply to the tribunal’s charges.

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