Year Zero for tyrant of the killing fields

International calls to bring the architect of genocide to justice
Click to follow
There have been renewed calls for Pol Pot, the hated 69-year-old former Cambodian leader, now sick and white-haired, to face a full international tribunal for his crimes against humanity, possibly in Australia.

Gareth Evans, the former Australian foreign minister, and in the past a key peace negotiator in war-wracked Cambodia, suggested his country as a suitable venue to hold a proper trial if it was not possible to try Pol Pot in an official court inside Cambodia.

"Neither the Cambodian people nor the international community will ever forget or forgive the horror of the Cambodian genocide and he must be punished for that," Mr Evans said of the former Khmer Rouge leader. "I don't think anyone will really be satisfied that Pol Pot has suffered enough for the war crimes ... and the horror that he has perpetrated, unless he is tried and punished by an international tribunal."

His comments come as the first glimpses of Pol Pot for nearly two decades, shot last week by an American reporter, Nate Thayer, have been broadcast. They show the leader being condemned to life imprisonment by his former comrades, in what Mr Thayer describes as a "classic Sixties Cultural Revolution- style show trial".

Tearful and frail, Pol Pot appears dressed in a light cotton shirt and dark trousers, with a traditional Khmer blue and white scarf draped over his shoulders. His seemingly broken figure, unable to stand without a jungle-cut bamboo cane, silently listened to a succession of speakers, all former Khmer Rouge comrades, denouncing him before hundreds of guerrilla fighters.

"Crush, crush, crush Pol Pot and his clique," the crowd chanted in carefully orchestrated, but enthusiastic outbursts of anger. Close-ups of the one- time tyrant showed eyes that appeared dulled and tired.

Before the world, Pol Pot stands accused of engineering the deaths of more than 2 million Cambodians during his brutal "Killing Fields" regime.

While hundreds of thousands of people were executed, most died of mistreatment and over-work in labour camps set up by Pol Pot as part of his Maoist- inspired agrarian revolution, in which he hoped to eradicate all evidence of the 20th century and return Cambodia to "Year Zero".

In the trial at the guerrillas' Anlong Veng stronghold, Pol Pot and three Khmer Rouge commanders were denounced for "destroying national unity", and for killing the movement's former security chief, Son Sen, in early June. The commanders were also accused of being drunkards, and of raping the wives of their comrades.

Splits in the Khmer Rouge ranks first surfaced last year, with the defection to government forces of Iang Sary, a prominent guerrilla commander with some 10,000 fighters under his command. Last month, during secret negotiations with rival government factions, Pol Pot ordered the execution of several senior Khmer Rouge figures, including his long-standing security chief, before fleeing into the jungle with a band of hardline supporters to escape a rebellion. He was later captured and removed as Khmer Rouge leader.

Mr Thayer, a correspondent with the Hong Kong-based Far Eastern Economic Review magazine, described the trial that he filmed - and later sold to the American ABC television network for a reported sum of $600,000 (pounds 360,000) - as "an extremely surreal historic moment ... intended to denounce and humiliate Pol Pot".

The trial, staged deep in the jungles of northern Cambodia, to the dismay of human rights campaigners seeking a fuller historical record of the Cambodian genocide, may be the last the world sees of Pol Pot alive. For the remaining leaders of the Khmer Rouge, their hearts set on cleansing their murderous image in advance of an attempt to return to mainstream Cambodian politics, Pol Pot has been a liability.

Even if the group was prepared to surrender him to the international community for questioning, it is unlikely Cambodia's political leaders would allow it. The Prime Minister, Hun Sen, his deposed co-premier, Prince Norodom Ranariddh, and even the aged Cambodian King, Norodom Sihanouk, have all had strong ties with the Khmer Rouge, and are desperately keen to keep their personal horror stories under wraps.