TA SANH, Battambang province (Khmer Times) – A former Khmer Rouge navy chief charged with ordering the murder of his own soldiers, as well as a number of Westerners, has accused the Extraordinary Chambers in the Court of Cambodia (ECCC) of violating Cambodian and international law.
Meas Muth, head of the navy under the Khmer Rouge regime, insisted that the ECCC had overstepped its authority by charging him with crimes including murder, enslavement, extermination, imprisonment and persecution on political and ethnic grounds.
Sitting outside his comfortable, three-story wooden home in the village of Ta Sanh, Battambang province, Mr. Muth told Khmer Times that the charges against him were illegal and untrue. He insisted that he had only been obeying the orders of his superiors.
“The ECCC has an agreement with the government to put only the top leaders of the Khmer Rouge on trial. So why have they accused me?” said Mr. Muth. “They [ECCC] are violating not only Cambodia’s law but also universal laws.”
Mr. Muth was charged last Tuesday with crimes against humanity by the UN-backed tribunal in Phnom Penh, along with former district commander Im Chaem.
The charges come despite Prime Minister Hun Sen’s repeated insistence that it is not in the Kingdom’s interest for any more Khmer Rouge leaders to be put on trial.
Less than two weeks ago, Hun Sen warned in a speech that pursuing more members of the murderous regime that ruled Cambodia between 1975 and 1979 could plunge the country back into civil war.
A stocky 77-year-old, Mr. Muth farms four hectares of land surrounding his house in Ta Sanh village in Samlout district. It is a long way from his previous role as the commander of Cambodia’s navy in the 1970’s.
It was during that period that Mr. Muth is accused of ordering the killing of a number of westerners, as well as Thai and Vietnamese nationals, who were captured after the boats they were on strayed into Cambodian waters.
The westerners, who included Australian, British, Canadian and New Zealand nationals, were sent to the notorious S-21 detention center in Phnom Penh. There, they were tortured into writing false confessions identifying them as CIA agents and executed.
But Mr. Muth told Khmer Times that he had only ordered the arrest of Thai and Vietnamese nationals, and that none had been killed.
“I only arrested illegal migrants who came across the Cambodian maritime border. They were Thai and Vietnamese and I released them back to their countries because we did not have enough food to feed them,” he said.
He denied having any knowledge of S-21, or of ordering people to be sent there. “I did not know about S-21 or have any connection with S-21,” said Mr. Muth.
Speaking in animated fashion, Mr. Muth insisted that he was only following orders. “I was a Khmer Rouge soldier and it was my duty to protect our maritime borders,” he said. “I was just following the orders of the high level leaders.”
Married with five grown-up children, Mr. Muth defected from the Khmer Rouge in the mid-1990’s. He is subsequently thought to have acted as a military advisor to Hun Sen.
Im Chaem, who is accused of overseeing the deaths of up to 40,000 people while a district commander in Banteay Meanchey province, has also said she is innocent of the charges against her.
Amid rumors that Prime Minister Hun Sen may refuse to allow the prosecution of Mr. Muth and Im Chaem to go ahead, Mr. Muth made no comment about whether he would appear at the tribunal. Instead, he warned of the potential consequences of more senior Khmer Rouge officials being put on trial.
“Accusing more Khmer Rouge members will have a negative impact in Cambodia,” insisted Mr. Muth. “Other former Khmer Rouge will react strongly to more people being charged,” he added.
Hun Sen, who is himself a former Khmer Rouge battalion commander, is desperate for a line to be drawn under the Pol Pot era. He wants the ECCC to end its work after the current trials of Khieu Samphan and Nuon Chea are concluded.
However, the tribunal believes it has the jurisdiction to charge Mr. Muth and Im Chaem.