PHNOM PENH — Khmer Rouge victims Friday welcomed the indictment of four top regime leaders for war crimes and genocide, but some observers voiced concern about potential political interference in the case.
A UN-backed tribunal said Thursday that the four most senior surviving Khmer Rouge members would face trial in connection with the deaths of up to about two million people from starvation, overwork and execution between 1975 and 1979.
"I am really happy with the indictment," said Chum Mey, one of just a handful of survivors of the Khmer Rouge's main torture prison Tuol Sleng in Phnom Penh.
The accused are "Brother Number Two" Nuon Chea, former foreign minister Ieng Sary, his wife and ex-social affairs minister Ieng Thirith, and former head of state Khieu Samphan.
Mey, who heads an organisation that speaks on behalf of Khmer Rouge victims, warned that the court should waste no time in bringing the ailing defendants, who are in their late 70s or early 80s, to justice.
"They are all very old. If they die halfway through the trial, there will be no one to testify at the court and it will be difficult to find justice."
The genocide charges in the case relate to the deaths of Vietnamese people and ethnic Cham Muslims under the regime.
Farina So, who works with Muslim groups at the Documentation Center of Cambodia -- which researches atrocities under the Khmer Rouge -- said the Cham Muslims she had spoken to welcomed the indictments.
"They suffered tremendously during the Khmer Rouge time and they have been longing for this trial. They are preparing to give testimony," she told AFP.
The trial -- expected to begin in early 2011 -- follows the landmark July conviction of former Tuol Sleng prison chief Kaing Guek Eav, better known as Duch, for war crimes and crimes against humanity.
However, his trial was marred by claims that Cambodian staff paid kickbacks for their jobs and allegations of interference by a government with many former Khmer Rouge figures within its ranks.
Prime Minister Hun Sen, himself a mid-level cadre before he turned against the movement, said last year that he would "prefer for this court to fail" than to see new cases opened.
"Political interference is an ongoing concern," Chhaya Hang, executive director at the Khmer Institute for Democracy, told AFP.
The court is investigating whether to open cases against more former Khmer Rouge cadres. Khmer Rouge leader Pol Pot died in 1998.
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