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Water for weapons

Clearly, priorities are changing. Former Khmer Rouge soldiers, best known for their role in the decade long genocide in Cambodia, disarmed earlier this week in exchange for clean water. Hundreds of ex-soldiers formally handed over 473 weapons after a year of talks. In exchange the area will receive 20 communal water wells.

india Updated: Jun 11, 2003 15:43 IST

Recalcitrant soldiers of the former Khmer Rouge disarmed in exchange for clean water on Thursday as authorities prepared to sign a historic agreement with the UN to put Pol Pot's surviving henchmen on trial for genocide.

Hundreds of ex-soldiers formally handed over 473 weapons after a year of talks mediated by the European Union with local leaders including former Khmer Rouge commander Pa Koul.

The weapons were then torched in a "Flame for Peace" ceremony.

In return, special adviser to the EU David de Beers said this area of southern Kampot province will receive 20 communal water wells.

He said many locals wanted the weapons destroyed to help deter violence in the lead-up to the July 27 national elections.

"People turned in their weapons as a show of confidence in the government," he said. "They want the elections to be peaceful."

The area is the notorious home to large pockets of ex-Khmer Rouge, a legacy of almost three decades of civil war that finally ended in 1998.

It was in the same area that backpackers Australian David Wilson, Briton Mark Slater, and Frenchman Jean-Michel Braquet were kidnapped and murdered after two months in captivity in 1994.

Last year local general Sam Bith was jailed for his role in the killings. The sentencing judge was shot dead in April, though sources say any link between the killing and the trial is tenuous.

Pa Koul said the weapons destruction and communal water wells would improve the livelihoods of his people and showed that violence linked to the Khmer Rouge in his village can now be consigned to history.

"I am very happy that the weapons are being burnt," he told AFP.

The Khmer Rouge rule of Cambodia between 1975 and 1979 left two million people dead from alleged genocide, starvation and illness. Civil war continued even after Pol Pot's henchmen were ousted.

Marathon efforts to try those leaders began in earnest shortly after the fighting officially stopped in 1998. The United Nations General Assembly in mid-May adopted a resolution with Cambodia to prosecute the crimes committed by the ultra Maoists.

United Nations legal counsel Hans Corell arrived in Phnom Penh Thursday, a day before he was to sign the historic agreement with his Cambodian counterpart Sok An that commits to bringing surviving Khmer Rouge leaders to trial.

"The process to establish the trial has been long but both parties are now operating in a different environment," Corell said.

"The next step is to sign it and then after it will be presented to the competent authorities of Cambodia."

He said funding for the trial was still being discussed by UN member states while a start date would be decided by prosecutors once they had got themselves organised.

The agreement for the trial is not expected to be adopted as law by Parliament until after the July elections.

Ta Mok, once the overall military commander for Kampot, is one of two senior figures from the Khmer Rouge languishing in jail awaiting trial.

Sam Bith took his orders directly from Ta Mok, who in turn answered solely to Pol Pot. Pol Pot died in 1998 and his body was burnt on a pile of rubbish.

Surviving figures from his regime live freely in Phnom Penh and remote parts of western Cambodia near the Thai border.

First Published: Jun 07, 2003 12:08 IST