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The BBC's Jonathan Head
"The first such tribunal to be approved by the United Nations"
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Prof International Relations, LSE, Michael Leifer
"It really is the beginning of the process"
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Tuesday, 2 January, 2001, 07:33 GMT
Cambodia backs genocide law
The communists' brutal regime killed up to 1.7 million
Cambodia has taken a major step towards putting former Khmer Rouge leaders on trial for war crimes committed during the Pol Pot era.

New laws have been unanimously approved by the National Assembly, ending months of deadlock over exactly what form the trials should take.

We will try only the top leaders and the people who had direct responsibility for the genocide

National Assembly vice-chairman
Heng Samrin
Under the legislation - which still needs Senate, constitutional and Royal approval - Khmer Rouge defendants will face a tribunal that will include foreign judges and prosecutors.

The first suspects to face trial have yet to be named, but the Khmer Rouge is held responsible for around 1.7 million deaths in the 1970s.

It is thought that up to 30 men, many in their 70s, could be brought before the tribunal.

One of Pol Pot's most ruthless commanders, Ta Mok - nicknamed "The Butcher" - and chief executioner Kang Kek Ieu are being held in jail pending trial.

Ta Mok
Ta Mok - nicknamed The Butcher - is in custody
Other surviving senior leaders include Nuon Chea, who was known as Brother Number Two, and the movement's public face, Khieu Samphan.

They live peacefully in the town of Pailin, near the Thai border.

Pol Pot himself died in his jungle hideout in 1998.

"I am very happy that today the National Assembly has passed the long-awaited draft law on the Khmer Rouge trial, allowing us to fulfill the goal of all Cambodian people and also the world to try leaders of the genocidal regime," said the National Assembly's vice-chairman, Heng Samrin.

He said lower-ranked Khmer Rouge officials would not be targeted.

Khmer Rouge leaders
Pol Pot - died in 1998
Ta Mok - the Butcher - captured and awaiting trial
Kang Kek - chief executioner - in jail awaiting trial
Ieng Sary - foreign minister - pardoned
Nuon Chea - chief political theorist and "Brother Number Two" - at liberty
Khieu Samphan - public apologist - at liberty

"I would like to appeal to our compatriots who were with the Khmer Rouge in the past, please do not be scared because (we) will try only the top leaders and the people who had direct responsibility for the genocide," he said.

The basic shape of the tribunals was agreed by Cambodia and the United Nations in April, after nearly a year of talks.

Cambodia had been concerned that the foreign judges and prosecutors would override Cambodian sovereignty.

Under the formula now agreed, Cambodian judges will have a majority of one at each level of the proposed court - but at least one international judge must side with them before a binding judgment can be made.

The new law, passed more quickly than expected by the lower house of parliament, has still to be approved by the country's Senate and Constitutional Council, before being signed by King Norodom Sihanouk.

Pol Pot
Pol Pot led the Khmer Rouge's reign of terror
It is not expected to meet any major obstacles.

The Khmer Rouge took power with their brutal form of radical communism in 1975, declaring it Year Zero and forcing millions to work on the land, in what became the country's "killing fields".

Pol Pot ruled until January 1979, by which time hundreds of thousands of people had died and the country's economy and infrastructure lay in ruins.

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See also:

06 Jul 00 | Asia-Pacific
Khmer Rouge genocide deal
14 Apr 00 | Asia-Pacific
Masters of the killing fields
16 Apr 00 | Asia-Pacific
25 years since 'Year Zero'
17 Apr 98 | Asia-Pacific
Pol Pot's death confirmed
14 May 99 | Asia-Pacific
Cambodia's chief executioner charged
14 Apr 00 | Asia-Pacific
Pol Pot: Life of a tyrant
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