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US to probe KR leaders on genocide

W ASHINGTON - The US State Department is setting up an office to investigate Pol

Pot and other Khmer Rouge leaders for genocide during their 1975-79 rule of

Cambodia, sources involved in the effort said on June 7.

The Khmer Rouge

investigation is a delicate matter for the Clinton administration, which has

sought to promote national reconciliation in Cambodia after decades of civil

war.

Private groups pushing to put Khmer Rouge leaders on trial said they

were briefed by State Department officials on the issue on June 7 and that the

department was getting set to name a director of the new office and define its

mission.

The State Department declined to discuss details.

Under

legislation signed into law April 30 by President Clinton, the office of

Cambodian Genocide Investigation must be set up by the end of next

month.

The State Department initially opposed the law partly on grounds

that the US lacked standing to bring legal action against the KR.

In

addition, past US support for the anti-Vietnamese coalition that included the

Khmer Rouge could have proven embarrassing in a full-fledged investigation of

the group.

James Hall, director of the office of Vietnam, Laos and

Cambodia, told the June 7 meeting the department did not plan to press for an

international tribunal to try those accused of genocide, as specified in the

law, participants said.

Hall said it was up to the Royal Government to

determine whether to use material produced by the new office at "any national or

international tribunal," according to Michael Bedford, Southeast Asia

coordinator of Oxfam America.

Bedford attended the session as a member of

the executive committee of the Campaign to Oppose the Return of the Khmer Rouge,

a coalition of private groups in the forefront of efforts to put Khmer Rouge

leaders on trial.

Craig Etcheson, executive director of the Campaign,

said the department seemed to favor hiring outside groups to do the

investigative work rather than handling if internally.

One possibility

was to have the research done by a university. The State Department had

previously indicated that, among other reasons for its initial qualms, it feared

that any such investigation by department officials might lack objectivity and

credibility in some eyes.

The State Department declined formal comment on

its plans for the new office, but an official said the department would comply

fully with the provisions of the law.

Senator Charles Robb, the Virginia

Democrat who is the author of the Cambodian Genocide Justice Act, said creating

the office "lays the groundwork for war crimes trials of Khmer Rouge

leaders."

The act provides the Cambodian government "encouragement and

evidence to eventually prosecute Pol Pot and the national Khmer Rouge leadership

for perpetrating genocide in Cambodia," Rodd told Reuters.

The law says

it is the "policy of the United States to support efforts to bring to justice

members of the Khmer Rouge for their crimes against humanity" during their

rule.

It says the State Department office will "collect, or assist

appropriate organizations to collect relevant data on crimes of genocide" in

Cambodia. The law also mandates the office to develop a proposal for

"establishment of an international tribunal for the prosecution of those accused

of genocide in Cambodia."

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