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'Groups urge more ECCC graft talks

UN, government should not abandon efforts to tackle court corruption

LEADING legal and civil society groups Thursday urged the government and the United Nations not to abandon attempts to establish anti-graft measures at Cambodia's war crimes court, a day after the two sides walked away from corruption talks empty-handed.

"The government of Cambodia and the United Nations must continue in good faith to resolve the previous corruption allegations as soon as possible and immediately agree on [a] joint mechanism to deal fully and independently with future corruption allegations," the six groups said in a statement.

The groups added that protection for whistleblowers must also be ensured so that "the integrity of the proceedings is restored".

The Cambodian side of the hybrid court has been under suspicion since allegations surfaced in 2007 that some employees were being forced to kick back portions of their salaries to their bosses.

The claims prompted several audits, including a UN review, and have resulted in the freezing of funds to the Cambodian half of the tribunal.

In three days of discussions earlier this week, Deputy Prime Minister Sok An and the UN's Assistant Secretary General for Legal Affairs Peter Taksoe-Jensen failed to reach an agreement on how best to address corruption at the court.

Taksoe-Jensen said this round of negotiations would be the last.

Sok Sam Oeun, the executive director of the Cambodian Defenders Project who co-drafted the NGO statement, told the Post Thursday that the government should be less aggressive in its talks with the UN.

"I believe that the talks between the UN and the government will not hit a stalemate if [the government] considers the interests and the need for justice of the victims."

Sok Sam Oeun warned that the delay in reaching an agreement on anti-corruption mechanisms for court staff, and the inability to resolve existing corruption allegations, would affect the credibility and independence of the court.

The group also called on the international community to support the UN's efforts to protect it from executive interference.

"We are in no doubt that a failure to successfully complete the ECCC process would lead to deep disappointment and anger amongst victims of the Khmer Rouge regime and the wider Cambodian and international communities, and urge all stakeholders in this process to work to avoid this occurring," the group said.

Phay Siphan, a spokesman for the Council of Ministers, said political will was needed in the talks with the UN.

"Our government had requested the UN come to help bring justice for the victims of the Khmer Rouge regime, and so we have never closed the door for talks," Phay Siphan said. "It is too early to resume talks because each side has drafts in hand to consider."

Youk Chhang, the director of the Documentation Centre of Cambodia, on Thursday wrote a letter to Taksoe-Jensen asking him to speak to Ambassador Thomas Hammarberg to learn of his experiences in negotiating with the government.

Hammarberg was the former UN human rights envoy to Cambodia and was deeply involved in negotiations to establish the tribunal. "In my view, the difficulties [Hammarberg] faced in reaching an agreement with the government were much more severe than those faced today," Youk Chhang wrote.

He told the Post Thursday: "It is clear that the ECCC administration is incompetent and needs to be reformed and replaced. During these recent negotiations, the teams have faced political, legal and networking challenges."



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