Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen has vowed to put surviving members of the Khmer Rouge on trial for genocide, saying it is the only way to clear the country of a tragic legacy. His comments come hours before Cambodia resumes talks in New York with the United Nations about setting up a special tribunal.
Prime Minister Hun Sen, addressing a crowd of thousands Monday, said that it was inevitable that a trial of former Khmer Rouge leaders would take place. The pain caused by the regime, he said, had left too much damage behind to warrant a simple apology.
Nearly two million people died from starvation, torture or execution under the radical Maoist Khmer Rouge government, which ruled Cambodia between 1975 and 1979.
The prime minister's speech comes on the eve of the 24th anniversary of the Khmer Rouge being driven from power by a combined force of Cambodians and the Vietnamese Army. His comments also came as Phnom Penh's lead negotiator resumes talks with the United Nations in New York on creating a joint genocide tribunal.
Ordinary citizens here are frustrated that most of the movement's senior leaders live still freely inside the country and they don't expect trials anytime soon.
Talks between Phnom Penh and the United Nations over a tribunal have dragged on for years. Discussions broke down 11 months ago when U.N. officials pulled out of the process, concerned that the Cambodian version of the tribunal would not meet international standards of justice. Only last month did the United Nations decide to return to the negotiating table.
It is hard to find a family that was not scarred by the Khmer Rouge. Most Cambodians want a trial so they can get answers to the most destructive period in the country's history and many still have not be able to account for missing relatives.
And with a general election set for July, politicians are aware that there are votes to be had by lending their support to the tribunal process.
But the fact that it has taken so many years to get to this stage gives some indication of just how politically sensitive the issue is.
After being ousted from power, the Khmer Rouge continued to wage a guerrilla war, but many leaders defected to the government in the 1990s under an amnesty that helped bring an end to the fighting. Some of the senior Khmer Rouge leaders, such as Pol Pot, are already dead. If the slow pace of the talks in recent years is any guide, several more could die unpunished before the surviving few make it into court.