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Wednesday, August 06, 2008

Cambodian genocide tribunal faces allegations

By KER MUNTHIT

PHNOM PENH, Cambodia (AP) — Cambodia's genocide tribunal has been hit by new corruption allegations, compelling foreign donors to withhold more than $300,000 from the proceedings pending a review of the claims, officials said Wednesday.

The new scandal came as the U.N.-assisted tribunal prepared for its first trial, next month, for atrocities allegedly committed during the 1975-79 rule of the Khmer Rouge, who are blamed for the deaths of an estimated 1.7 million people from starvation, disease, overwork and execution.

Cambodian and U.N.-appointed staff jointly run the tribunal with two separate budget lines supported by contributions from international donors.

In a Wednesday statement to The Associated Press, the United Nations Development Program said it was withholding funding for operating expenses and salaries for Cambodian staffers at the tribunal. It did not provide an amount.
It said new kickback allegations surfaced in late June, but provided no other details.

Helen Jarvis, spokeswoman for the tribunal's Cambodian side, said she has not seen any allegations and could not comment on whether they had merit.

None of the 250 Cambodian staff members have yet received their July salaries, she said, adding that the total payroll for the national personnel is about $300,000 a month. Aside from salaries, it was unclear how much money was being withheld.

"We hope the situation will be urgently solved. Staff need to be paid and indeed deserve to be paid for their work," she said in an e-mail.

Peter Foster, spokesman for the tribunal's United Nations' side, declined to discuss details of the allegations but said they were brought up after June 25 by "more than one" person.

He said the allegations had been submitted to a U.N. official in Cambodia and were being reviewed by the U.N.'s oversight and investigative services office in New York.

The UNDP statement said funding for the month of July was initially held up to await submission from the Cambodian side of a spending plan, "which is a standard procedure to preserve the integrity of the funds.

"Following this, new allegations of kickbacks arose," the UNDP said.

It did not specify how much money was withheld or provide details of the kickbacks.

"We want to ensure that donor funds are used for their intended purpose," it said. "Our aim is to move forward with the work of the tribunal, without sacrificing the integrity of the funds supporting it."

It is the second time the tribunal has faced a graft scandal.

In 2007, allegations arose that Cambodian tribunal staff had paid kickbacks in exchange for their jobs. The tribunal's Cambodian side dismissed the allegations as unsubstantiated.
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Cambodia stresses peaceful solution with Thailand

By KER MUNTHIT

PHNOM PENH, Cambodia (AP) — Cambodia's prime minister reiterated his call for a peaceful solution to a border dispute with Thailand, warning Wednesday that both countries's economies would suffer if the conflict erupts into a full-scale war.

In his first public speech since winning national elections last month, Prime Minister Hun Sen said both countries must "narrow the conflict and expand friendship and cooperation."

Thai and Cambodian troops have been facing off along their shared border for three weeks over disputed territory — first near Preah Vihear temple and then at Ta Moan Thom temple.

Hun Sen's comments came as the confrontation at Ta Moan Thom appeared to be easing, with both sides pulling back their soldiers.

"We cannot just carve out Thailand to put in the sky or move our land away," Hun Sen said in a two-hour speech Wednesday. "We will coexist for tens of thousands of years to come."

He also criticized leaflets calling for a Cambodian boycott of Thai goods in response to Thailand's alleged encroachment onto Cambodian territory near Preah Vihear.

"A border dispute should not turn the two countries into enemies in all domains," he said. "That is very dangerous."

He said he was not being "soft," but warned that if war broke out "the two countries will only stand to lose" in terms of trade and economic cooperation.

The dispute surrounding the 13th century Ta Moan Thom temple started when Cambodian officials said some 70 Thai soldiers occupied the temple site last week and prevented Cambodian troops from entering. Thai military officials countered that their troops had been in the area for years.

Agreement for a troop withdrawal from the grounds of the temple was reached late Tuesday during a meeting between officials from the two countries, said Maj. Ho Bunthy, a Cambodian army commander in the area.

The sanctuary is located several hundred miles west of Preah Vihear temple, where Cambodian and Thai soldiers have been locked in a standoff for three weeks in a dispute over nearby territory.

About 800 troops from Cambodia and 400 from Thailand remain in the Preah Vihear area despite a tentative agreement reached by foreign ministers last week to redeploy them in an effort to ease tensions.

Hun Sen said another meeting between the two countries' foreign ministers would take place August 18 in the Thai resort town of Hua Hin, where delegates would discuss plans to redeploy troops and conduct mine clearing operations.

In Thailand, Lt. Gen. Nipat Thonglek, the chief of military border affairs, said Wednesday that his government would set up a committee to consider redeploying its troops from the border area near Preah Vihear temple.

He said the decision was made at a Thai Cabinet meeting Tuesday. He stressed redeployment of troops must be conducted in a manner appropriate with the military's "duty to protect the sovereignty" of Thailand.

Cambodian Information Minister Khieu Kanharith welcomed the announcement as "good news."

"The sooner the redeployment takes place, the better," he said.

Thailand and Cambodia sent troops to the border area after UNESCO approved Cambodia's application to have the Preah Vihear temple complex named a World Heritage Site. Some Thai activists say the temple's new status will jeopardize their country's claims to land next to the site.

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Border meeting

Phnom Penh - Foreign Minister Tej Bunnag will host his Cambodian counterpart Foreign Minister Hor Namhong in another effort to settle the potentially explosive border dispute, Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen said Wednesday.

In a speech broadcast on state radio, Hun Sen said talks between Hor Namhong and Bunnag would be held in Hua Hin, where His Majesty the King of Thailand has a seaside palace.

"Hor Namhong will meet his Thai counterpart ... on Aug 18. Hor Namhong will then" have an audience with His Majesty, Hun Sen said at a rice farming ceremony in the southwestern province of Kampong Speu, 40 kilometres west of the capital.

Cambodia had earlier said no further talks on disputed territory around the World Heritage-listed border temple of Preah Vihear and the Ta Moan Thom temple would be held until a new government was formed, probably in September.

However, with Hun Sen's Cambodian People's Party's efforts to form a coalition appearing to go more smoothly than after any previous election, talks had been moved forward.

Hun Sen said Cambodia sought to take the situation back to how it had been before July 15, when Thai troops moved into overlapping territory surrounding the temple, eight days after Preah Vihear was granted its World Heritage status by Unesco.

"At the pagoda we ask only Buddhist nuns, laymen and Buddhist monks stay - not troops from either side," Hun Sen said.

"I would like to respectfully inform the Thai king that if any other Cambodian except Hun Sen was prime minister, there would be war on the border since July 15 ... but not me."

"I would like to appeal to everybody to please, not expand the dispute but reduce it ... I am strong enough to lead a war. I was a soldier ... but the best resolution is not to fight. How many die?"

"Fighting is easy - it's ending the fight that is difficult," Hun Sen said. (dpa)

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