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Logo of Phnom Penh Post newspaper Phnom Penh Post - First Khmer Rouge trials in September

First Khmer Rouge trials in September

Heng Chivoan

Knut Rosandhaug, the UN's top official to Cambodia's Khmer Rouge tribunal, holds up budget figures during a press conference on June 24 to announced the court's revised funding needs.

Cambodia's Khmer Rouge tribunal expects to open its first public trial in September, court officials say, adding, however, that it faces a shortfall of nearly $44 million under a revised budget that nearly doubles the amount of money sought from donors and the Cambodian government.

Officials with the Extraordinary Chambers in the Courts of Cambodia, as the tribunal is known, announced on June 24 a new budget proposal that extends the court's mandate by a year and raises the cost of trying former Khmer Rouge leaders from $56.3 million to $104.6 million.

Sean Visoth, Cambodia's top official to the joint UN-Cambodian proceedings, also said the court expected to put Tuol Sleng prison chief Kaing Khek Iev on the dock in September, more than two years after the court first began its work.

"The co-investigating judges announced on May 15 that they had concluded the judicial investigation on case number one," Visoth told reporters, referring to the case against Khek Ieu, also known by his revolutionary name, Duch, who was the first of five senior regime leaders to be detained by the tribunal.

"They are hoping to order a closing order in July. We are preparing for the trials to be able to commence in September," he added.

The tribunal opened in July 2006 after years of often stalled negotiations between the UN and Cambodia with an expected three-year lifespan.

In addition to Duch, four others have been detained and are facing trial for crimes allegedly committed during their 1975-79 rule over Cambodia. They are the regime's most senior surviving leader, Nuon Chea, Head of State Khieu Samphan, Foreign Minister Ieng Sary, and Social Affairs Minister Ieng Thirith.

Some 1.7 million people died of starvation, disease and overwork, or were executed as the ultra-communist regime drove the entire population onto vast collective farms and erased every vestige of modern society in a bid to forge an agrarian workers' utopia.

But the task of bringing to justice those responsible for the apocalypse that engulfed Cambodia soon overwhelmed the tribunal's budget and staffing capabilities, forcing court officials to go back to its donors for more money.

A series of scandals over fiscal mismanagement and alleged leadership failures, however, made the international community hesitant to pour more money into the tribunal, leaving it repeatedly on the verge of bankruptcy.

A series of cash infusions, including a $2.9 million pledge earlier this month from the court's biggest donor, Japan, have kept it limping along.

Court officials, however, told donors in New York on June 20 that an additional $50.2 million would be needed to keep the court operational through 2010, down from the additional $114 million they had proposed earlier this year.

So far, only $6.4 million has been pledged, Visoth said.

"We are quite optimistic about the aid from donor countries,” Visoth said, while Knut Rosandhaug, the UN's top tribunal official, acknowledged that the court would have to operate with less than hoped for.

 

"We are going to have less resources and because of that, clearly there has to be more efficiency than there was in the first place," Rosandhaug said.

"I am not going to attack any one part of the court. There has to be increased efficiency across the board. We all want to complete this as soon as possible," he added.

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