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Clinton orders plans for arrest of Pol Pot

Pol Pot
Pol Pot  
April 9, 1998
Web posted at: 10:53 a.m. EDT (1453 GMT)

WASHINGTON (CNN) -- President Clinton has ordered the Departments of Defense, State and Justice to devise plans for the arrest and trial of Pol Pot, the Khmer Rouge leader responsible for the death of hundreds of thousands of Cambodians in the 1970s, CNN confirmed Thursday.

Clinton issued the written order Monday to organize logistics for Pol Pot's capture and trial, officials said after a New York Times story first reported the development. While administration officials cautioned that there was no guarantee that Pol Pot would be apprehended, they said the time appeared to be ripe, as infighting and mass defections seemed to be bringing the Khmer Rouge near collapse.

From 1975 to 1979, Pol Pot, who is now in his 70s and in poor health, led the Khmer Rouge in turning Cambodia into a vast labor camp. Millions of Cambodians, especially city-dwellers, were driven from their homes and forced to work in the fields under primitive conditions.

Pol Pot labeled anyone with money or education an enemy of the revolution. Much of the middle class was killed or starved to death during his four-year reign of terror.

Khmer Rouge fighters
Khmer Rouge fighters  

The Khmer Rouge were toppled by a Vietnamese invasion in 1979, but they resumed their guerrilla struggle in the jungle, where they have remained for two decades.

Thailand may help

Senior U.S. military officials, speaking on condition of anonymity, said that intelligence reports from Southeast Asia showed that the Thai military had actually taken Pol Pot into custody late last week, but then freed him.

The Thai military, the officials said, may have feared that his capture would antagonize China, a longtime Khmer Rouge supporter, and would complicate the international policy of Thailand's recently installed government, already struggling with an economic crisis.

The Thai government has suggested it would be willing to take Pol Pot into custody as long as the United States agreed to get him out of Thailand within hours of his capture. However, there was some official concern that the Thai government might change its mind, given the publicity surrounding the Clinton administration's order.

Under plans being discussed within the administration, an American military plane would take Pol Pot from Thailand to a third country, possibly the Netherlands, where international tribunals are prosecuting war crimes carried out in Rwanda and the former Yugoslavia.

Other interim sites where the Pentagon has suggested Pol Pot might be held until a location for the trial is selected include the Northern Marianas Islands and Wake Island, both American territories in the Pacific, or the U.S. naval base at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, the Times said earlier.

Western diplomats told the Times that prosecutors at the international tribunals in The Hague had already tentatively agreed to organize a trial for Pol Pot for crimes against humanity, as long as the U.N. Security Council empowers them to oversee the prosecution.


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