Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen has welcomed the upcoming trial of surviving Khmer Rouge leaders, after Cambodian and international judges agreed on procedural rules that will allow the trial process to begin. Human rights activists have previously accused the Hun Sen government of placing obstacles in the way of the tribunal. Catherine Makino reports from Tokyo, where Hun Sen is on a visit to seek increased investment in Cambodia.
The Cambodian prime minister told reporters his government and the people of Cambodia fully support the long-awaited trial of the Khmer Rouge leaders.
"We always asked countries to start the trial as soon as possible, because Cambodia will not have a bright future unless the problem is resolved and they are punished," he said. "This is what all of the people of Cambodia have been hoping for."
More than 1.7 million Cambodians died under Khmer Rouge rule between 1975 and 1979. Pol Pot, the top leader of the ultra-radical Maoist group, died in 1998, but several of Pol Pot's associates are still living freely in the country.
Hun Sen was a junior-level Khmer Rouge soldier himself, and human rights activists have charged that he and his government have worked behind the scenes to prevent the tribunal from starting its work. Hun Sen has said the proceedings could cause panic among Khmer Rouge supporters who still live in Cambodia, and reignite the civil war that ravaged the country from 1980s into the 1990s.
He has also said the country could not afford the U.N.-sponsored tribunal, although Japan later stepped in with the needed funds.
On Wednesday, agreement was reached on procedures for the trials after extended negotiations between domestic and international judges and lawyers.
The prime minister was unequivocal in his support for the tribunal.
"The Khmer Rouge have to be taken to task for what they did, and we will watch how the international community will have the Khmer Rouge leaders take responsibility for having inflicted these atrocities," he added.
The main purpose of Hun Sen's four-day visit to Japan is to seek investment and tourists. Cambodia's infrastructure is in tatters after decades of civil war and neglect.
Japan pledged more than $100 million at a donor's meeting last year, and has been Cambodia's largest donor for years. But Tokyo lags behinds other countries in investment and trade with the Southeast Asian nation.
In his public comments, Hun Sen repeated pledges to reduce corruption, which has been one obstacle to increased investment.