Cambodians Ambivalent About Khmer Rouge Trial Cambodia took a concrete step this week toward finding justice for the victims of the Khmer Rouge as the first of five former Khmer Rouge leaders was put on trial for crimes against humanity. Some Cambodians wonder whether the trials will achieve their goal of both justice and reconciliation.
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Cambodians Ambivalent About Khmer Rouge Trial

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Cambodians Ambivalent About Khmer Rouge Trial

Cambodians Ambivalent About Khmer Rouge Trial

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As many as 2 million Cambodians were either killed or died from starvation, malnutrition or overwork during the rule of Pol Pot's murderous regime. But until now, no one had faced legal repercussions for the killings. As NPR's Michael Sullivan reports from Phnom Penh, some Cambodians wonder whether the trials will achieve their goals of justice and reconciliation.

MICHAEL SULLIVAN: All politics is local, even the politics of murder, it seems, if you believe my friend, Cambodian journalist Ki Kim Song(ph).

SULLIVAN: They believe that Pol Pot is everywhere. It's not the big boss that come and kill, but the real killer is the neighbor around them - village chief, commune chief - they are the real killer.

SULLIVAN: In Kim Song's village, just outside Phnom Penh, some who returned included former Khmer Rouge and, he says, today, nobody much seems to care.

SULLIVAN: They know each other. They have been together. They go to park all together. They married, weddings, whatever, together. They try to make themselves clean. They try to make themselves good. And they try to forget, because they have become the neighbors already, become like friends already.

SULLIVAN: Thirty years on, he says, the solution people in his village have worked out for themselves is to forgive, if not forget, as long as the former Khmer Rouge in the village committed their crimes somewhere else.


SULLIVAN: I tested that theory when I went to another village, near the border with Vietnam, to visit a man who had been security chief of Phnom Penh's notorious Tuol Sleng Prison, where as many as 16,000 Cambodians were tortured and killed by the Khmer Rouge. After speaking with the security chief, who expressed remorse for his part in the killings, I went looking for his neighbors to see how they felt about the killer in their midst. And all of them said pretty much the same thing as 60-year-old Hod Troy(ph).

SULLIVAN: (Vietnamese spoken)

SULLIVAN: Hod Troy says she's not paying much attention to the tribunal, either. I'm too busy, she says - and she's not alone. The day Duch's trial opened, I stopped at a small cafe just down the road from the trial venue. You could see the court from the cafe, but nobody was looking. All eyes were glued to two televisions on the back wall airing a Khmer soap opera.


SULLIVAN: And a lot of Cambodians who do know about it aren't sure what it can or will accomplish. My friend Ki Kim Song is in that group. He lost his father, grandfather, and several aunts and uncles to the Khmer Rouge. He thinks the tribunal is a good idea, in theory, in order to help Cambodians understand their history and not repeat it. But he's also worried it might be too late and do more harm than good.

SULLIVAN: My family almost forget about the Khmer Rouge already, and they try to forget. But when the Khmer Rouge come up, people went to the village and pressure to talk, encourage people to talk about what you remember. And then it's sad. Getting suffer again. They getting angry and heart is not at peace.

SULLIVAN: And one of those whose heart is not at peace is Kim Song's 10-year- old son, who listens to the news with his dad every night and therefore, knows about the tribunal, and has started pestering his father about how his grandfather died and why.

SULLIVAN: This is what I'm concerned about - when I'm going to understand this? If I don't tell him the real answer, he probably keep angry until he grow up, and he angry. Why they kill my grandfather? But if I were to tell him the true story, probably he start to thinking about a new page.

SULLIVAN: Michael Sullivan, NPR News.

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