Australia wants trial for former Cambodian leader

Australia has proposed that former Cambodian leader Pol Pot be brought to trial. ``More people [would] rather watch the movie `Killing Fields' than seek justice against Pol Pot in an international tribunal,'' says a high-ranking Australian official.

The former leader, whose ruthless reign lasted from 1975 to 1979, is still prominent among the Khmer Rouge guerrillas fighting the Vietnamese occupation of their country.

His involvement in the Western-backed coalition of three anti-Vietnam guerrilla groups, called the Coalition Government of Democratic Kampuchea (CGDK), has been a stumbling block to resolving the Cambodia stalemate.

Khmer Rouge Radio last week attacked the proposal, saying that Australian Foreign Minister William Hayden was ``blind'' for suggesting that a special tribunal judge Pol Pot's role in the killing of millions of Cambodians.

``He did not say a word about Vietnamese expansionist acts in Kampuchea [Cambodia],'' the radio said in a broadcast monitored in Bangkok.

Australia made its proposal late last month at a meeting of foreign ministers from Western countries and from the six-member Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN, composed of Thailand, Indonesia, Singapore, Malaysia, Brunei, and the Philippines) in Manila.

Only Malaysia and Indonesia expressed interest in the idea, Australian officials say. Thailand and Singapore, the two ASEAN members most adamant in opposing Vietnam's occupation of Cambodia, were not interested.

Vietnam, which maintains an estimated 120,000 troops in Cambodia six years after it invaded the country, has rejected an eight-point ASEAN proposal for negotiations, citing the continued presence of Pol Pot and the Khmer Rouge, his faction, in the UN-backed CGDK. Hanoi says it cannot allow the Khmer Rouge, the largest guerrilla force within the tripartite coalition, to attempt to take over the country again and possibly threaten the border with Vietnam.

Vietnamese officials expressed support for the Australian proposal, citing the trial of some Khmer Rouge officials under the Hanoi-backed government in Phnom Penh, the Cambodian capital. But Vietnam told Australia that it was up to ASEAN to pursue the idea.

China openly supports Pol Pot. The United States has been lukewarm in backing the anti-Hanoi guerrillas because of Pol Pot's involvement -- despite an increasing Soviet presence in the area.

Australia decided to launch its proposal partly in response to a campaign within the Khmer Rouge to clean up the group's international image and to provide a new approach to the Cambodian problem.

``We saw a whitewash being painted over the Khmer Rouge past,'' says the Australian official. Australia left open the question of what forum would be best for a trial. Some possibilities include the International Court of Justice, the Genocide Convention, or the UN War Crimes Commission.

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