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Khmer Rouge Leader Dies

The United States strongly supports bringing to justice senior leaders responsible for the atrocities committed under the Khmer Rouge regime.

Ta Mok, a senior Khmer Rouge leader, died in a hospital in Phnom Penh, Cambodia. Nicknamed "The Butcher" for his role in the Khmer Rouge's devastating reign of terror, Ta Mok was captured along Thailand's border with Cambodia in 1999. He was awaiting trial on charges of genocide and crimes against humanity.

Kek Galabru, head of the Cambodian rights group Licadho, said Ta Mok's death means the loss of a potential witness to the crimes of the Khmer Rouge:

"When he [Ta Mok] was arrested seven years ago, he said that he will give lots of information concerning that period. So now we are going to lose, we lose a witness, [a] very important witness."

The Khmer Rouge regime took power in 1975 and was overthrown in 1978. By then, an estimated one-million-five-hundred-thousand Cambodians, out of a population of over seven-million, had perished. Under their brand of fanatical Communist rule, the Khmer Rouge emptied Cambodia's cities in an effort to erase history. They murdered leaders of the former government, members of ethnic minorities, intellectuals, physicians, teachers, and other professionals.

A 2004 agreement between the United Nations and Cambodia established the Khmer Rouge Tribunal. The trial of former Khmer Rouge leaders is expected to begin next year.

Adam Ereli, Deputy Spokesperson for the U.S. Department of State, issued a statement on the 30th Anniversary of the seizure of power by the Khmer Rouge movement in Cambodia. In it he stated, “[t]he United States continues to believe there must be accountability for these atrocities, and welcomed the agreement between the United Nations and Cambodia to establish a tribunals. . . . It is only through respect for the rule of law and the existence of effective institutions that barriers to impunity will be built and regimes like that of the Khmer Rouge will exist only in the sad annals of history.”

The U.S. has provided more than seven million dollars in funding over the past decade for research to document crimes of the Khmer Rouge, and to help establish a record that would be useful in bringing to justice those responsible for atrocities during the period of Khmer Rouge rule.

The U.S. also continues to focus on the importance of and need for an independent judiciary in Cambodia. Respect for the rule of law and the existence of effective institutions of justice are Cambodia's best defense against future abuses and a fitting memorial to those who lost their lives or loved ones to the Khmer Rouge.

The preceding was an editorial reflecting the views of the United States Government.