Robert Petit announces he is leaving for 'personal' reasons.
THE international co-prosecutor at the Khmer Rouge tribunal announced his resignation Tuesday, prompting concerns that the work of the prosecutors' office could be disrupted before the court's first trial is completed.
Robert Petit said in a statement that he would leave the court September 1 "for personal and family reasons".
"I am confident that the work of my office shall continue with the same vigor during and after this transition period," he said.
But Heather Ryan, court monitor for the Open Society Justice Initiative, called news of the departure "disturbing".
"It is disturbing to hear that the international co-prosecutor is leaving in the midst of the initial trial of the [tribunal], at a time when it is critical for the office to establish its leadership role in the trial and the court," Ryan said in a statement.
She voiced concern that the "sudden departure" could "delay resolution of pressing matters before the court", pointing in particular to an ongoing dispute between Petit and his Cambodian counterpart, Chea Leang, over whether to try additional suspects.
Petit filed a Statement of Disagreement in December 2008 saying that he and Chea Leang were at odds over whether to pursue more suspects, and Chea Leang later argued that doing so would jeopardise the country's stability. Petit had reportedly identified six more possible suspects as of December.
The defence team for former Khmer Rouge leader Nuon Chea on Tuesday sent a letter to Petit asking him to state whether he knew "that Chea Leang has received instructions from the Royal Government of Cambodia not to pursue the prosecutions, which form the basis of the current disagreement". The team said earlier this month that it had been "reliably informed" that such instruction had occurred, a claim the government has repeatedly denied.
Though the dispute remains unresolved, UN court spokesman Lars Olsen said it was not a factor in Petit's decision to leave. Petit did not answer repeated calls to his mobile phone Tuesday evening.
Olsen dismissed concerns that the prosecutor's office would be adversely affected by Petit's departure, saying he believed a successor would be selected before September 1.
In his statement, Petit said, "The formal process of appointing a successor is ongoing and will no doubt be completed soon".
Olsen said he could not provide any details on the status of the selection process. He said the agreement on which the tribunal was established calls for the UN secretary general to select two nominees for international co-prosecutor. The Supreme Council of Magistracy is tasked with appointing one to the position and selecting one as a reserve.
Olsen said he did not know whether the current reserve, Paul Coffey, would remain in that position, though he said he did not believe Coffey would be asked to fill Petit's role.
In any case, he said, "There will be no effect on the work of the co-prosecutors."
Chea Leang, who on Sunday was reportedly appointed general prosecutor at the Supreme Court, but has given no indication that she will leave the tribunal, said Tuesday that she "regretted" Petit's resignation.
"We have worked with good cooperation and communication for three years," she said.
"The administration work has gone very smoothly, and we have only had one disagreement," she added, referring to the dispute over additional suspects.
ADDITIONAL REPORTING BY CHEANG SOKHA