Talks have begun in Phnom Penh, the capital Cambodia, to prevent the collapse of the trial of Khmer Rouge leaders accused of the killing of almost 2 million Cambodians. In 1975, the government of Cambodia, a country of only 10 million people, was overthrown by Khmer Rouge insurgents, led by Pol Pot. The Khmer Rouge ruled Cambodia until 1979, when the people of Cambodia were rescued by the Vietnamese government. The Khmer Rouge and Pol Pot fled to hide in the jungles.
The Khmer Rouge believed Cambodia needed to get back to its agricultural roots. To that end, the national army emptied the cities and moved the people to forced labor farms, known as “the killing fields.” Many people starved or were worked to death in the fields. Many others were given mock trials and summarily executed simply because they were educated.
Internal fighting led to the Khmer Rouge arresting Pol Pot in 1997. The dictator died an undeserved peaceful death in 1998. Cambodia has had a constitutional government since 1993 in which the Khmer Rouge is now a participating party.
After almost a decade of wrangling between the United Nations and the Cambodian government, a high-level committee of Cambodian and international judges is meeting in a final effort to set ground rules for a special war crimes tribunal to try leader’s of Pol Pot’s regime. The United Nations judges have threatened to pull out of the trial if progress can not be made.
The collapse of the trial to hold Khmer Rouge leaders accountable for the torture, starvation and execution of so many would destroy the hopes of Cambodians who have been waiting almost 30 years for justice.