Former Khmer Rouge chief on 'silence strike'

Khieu Samphan, former Cambodian president during the Khmer Rouge era, will abstain from speaking at his trial to protest against irregularities, reports FRANCE 24's Cambodia correspondent Cyril Payen.


Khieu Samphan, former Cambodian president during the country’s dark Khmer Rouge years, who is scheduled to go before a judge for preliminary questioning Thursday, made it known through his lawyer that he will be going on a “silence strike,” or “grève de la parole” as it’s called in French.

Specifically, he will refuse to answer questions put to him by the international tribunal established to judge the genocide perpetrated in Cambodia during the 1970s.

“This is bad news for a trial that comes 30 years after the facts,” said Cyrile Payen, FRANCE 24 correspondent in Phnom Penh.

The former president cited procedural reasons related to administrative delays at the tribunal. “Not all the documents relating to the charges have been translated into the desired languages (Cambodian and French) and Khieu Samphan’s legal team claims it cannot continue in this manner,” said Payen.

Samphan’s French lawyer Jacques Verger announced that he would be leaving Cambodia on Thursday. With a principal defendant refusing to participate and a defense lawyer leaving the proceedings, the UN-sanctioned trial is facing new difficulties after already suffering numerous delays.

Two million dead

Some two million people died under the Khmer Rouge regime, which, in the name of an ideology inspired by Maoism and tinged with nationalism, sowed the seeds of terror between 1975 and 1979 in Cambodia. It purged cities to benefit the rural areas, imposed forced labor and systematically eliminated all opponents.

Khieu Samphan, along with Nuon Chea, Ieng Sary and Kaing Guek Eav, also known as "Duch", are all currently in jail, awaiting judgment for crimes committed during this period.

Most of the suspects are senior citizens, and tribunal officials fear they will die in prison while awaiting trial—the date for which has not yet been set.

The tribunal, expected to focus mainly on the Cambodian genocide, was set up with much difficulty in July 2006 in Phnom Penh after a decade of negotiations between the Cambodian government and the UN.

Granted an initial budget of more than 56 million dollars for a three year period, the court is beginning to face financial difficulties and recently gave notice that it needed an additional 114 million dollars to function until 2011.


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