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Wednesday, September 09, 2009

UN says Khmer Rouge tribunal must be independent

Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen gestures at a ceremony in Phnom Penh, Cambodia, Monday, Sep. 7, 2009. Hun Sen renewed his criticism of the country's U.N.-backed Khmer Rouge tribunal Monday, warning that arresting more suspects could spark civil war. (AP Photo/Khem Sovannara) (Khem Sovannara - AP)

The Associated Press

PHNOM PENH, Cambodia -- The U.N. administrator for the Khmer Rouge tribunal issued a blunt reminder to Prime Minister Hun Sen that the panel is independent, after the Cambodian leader suggested that arresting more suspects for trial could spark a civil war.

The U.N.-backed tribunal ruled last week that prosecutors could pursue further arrests beyond the five Khmer Rouge leaders already indicted, in a decision opposed by the panel's Cambodian co-prosecutor but supported by his international counterparts.

Hun Sen said Monday that he had devoted several years to persuading Khmer Rouge leaders and their soldiers to stop fighting, so he could not allow anyone to drag the country back into a new civil war by putting additional suspects them on trial.

Knut Rosandhaug, Coordinator of the United Nations Assistance to the Khmer Rouge trials, subsequently issued a statement that he expects the tribunal to continue to work independently.
"It is a clearly established international standard that courts do not seek approval of advice on their work from the executive branch," he said.

The tribunal is seeking justice for the estimated 1.7 million people who died in Cambodia from execution, overwork, disease and malnutrition as a result of the communist regime's radical policies while in power between 1975-79.

Critics accuse Hun Sen of seeking to limit the tribunal's scope because other potential defendants are his current political allies. Hun Sen served as a Khmer Rouge officer, before changing sides, and many of his major political allies are also former members of the group.

Brad Adams, Asia director at New York-based Human Rights Watch, said he believes Hun Sen was seeking to protect members of his own Cambodian People's Party, who could be targets for prosecution. But he said it was unlikely more arrests would be made.

Adams pointed out that the Khmer Rouge have been defunct for a decade, and that its former leaders are now more interested in business than war.

The tribunal's long-awaited first trial - of the Khmer Rouge's chief jailer for war crimes and crimes against humanity - opened in March. A joint trial of the four other senior officials - the only others currently in detention - is expected within the next two years.

The Khmer Rouge came to power after a bitter 1970-75 Civil War, and after being ousted from power in 1979, carried out an insurgency from the jungles until 1999.

Hun Sen has dominated Cambodian politics for more than two decades. He ousted his former co-prime minister in a 1997 coup and has since ruled virtually unchallenged.

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