A Change of Guard

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Wednesday, 19 October 2011

UN Cambodia trip to address KRouge court fears

Former Khmer Rouge leader "Brother Number Two" Nuon Chea (C) in the courtroom at the ECCC in Phnom Penh in August (AFP/ECCC/File, Mark Peters)

PHNOM PENH (AFP) — A senior UN official will visit Cambodia this week to discuss concerns about political interference at a UN-backed Khmer Rouge tribunal, the court confirmed Monday, after a judge's shock resignation.

United Nations under-secretary general for legal affairs Patricia O'Brien "will have meetings Thursday and Friday with senior officials of the court and members of the government of Cambodia," tribunal spokesman Lars Olsen told AFP.

Her visit comes after a German judge said last week he was stepping down because repeated government statements opposing two possible new cases linked to the 1975-1979 Khmer Rouge regime effectively made his position untenable.

UN chief Ban Ki-moon's spokesman Martin Nesirky said in a news briefing on Friday that O'Brien would address "concerns with respect to the issue of government interference" and "with respect to other aspects of the court's work", without giving exacts dates of the visit.

"It is important that the United Nations talks to senior officials in the (court) and others to gain the best possible understanding of these concerns," he said.

The departure of Siegfried Blunk, one of two judges responsible for issuing indictments, has rocked the court and observers have called for UN action against long-standing allegations of government meddling in legal proceedings.

The court, made up of Cambodian and international legal officials, was set up in 2006 to provide some justice for the nation traumatised by the deaths of up to two million people under the communist movement's reign of terror.

It has so far completed just one trial -- jailing Kaing Guek Eav, a former Khmer Rouge prison chief, last year for 30 years for overseeing the deaths of 15,000 people.

A second trial involving the regime's four most senior surviving leaders is expected to start hearing testimony before the end of the year.

Two more possible cases against five ex-Khmer Rouge members are officially still under consideration but critics said Blunk and his Cambodian counterpart were failing to investigate them fully in the face of government objections.

Phnom Penh has strongly denied interfering but Prime Minister Hun Sen -- himself a former cadre -- has repeatedly made it clear he wants the court's work to end with the second trial, even saying that further cases were "not allowed".

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