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Wednesday, January 25, 2012

UN defends judge in Khmer Rouge trial row

United Nations Special Expert to the Extraordinary
 Chambers in Courts of Cambodia David Scheffer (AFP)

PHNOM PENH — The United Nations on Wednesday said a new foreign judge in the Khmer Rouge tribunal could push on with new cases even without the support of Cambodia, in the latest row to rock the court.

David Scheffer, the UN special expert to the tribunal, said Laurent Kasper-Ansermet could proceed with probing two new politically charged cases linked to the 1975-1979 regime despite Cambodia's objection to the Swiss judge.

"Our view is that this particular individual, judge Kasper-Ansermet, has clear authority to fulfil his duties in this country and we look forward to him doing so," Scheffer told reporters after crunch talks with Deputy Prime Minister Sok An.

Scheffer said Cambodia's rejection of Kasper-Ansermet as the international co-investigating judge was a breach of the 2003 accord which created the court to find justice for up to two million people who died under the Khmer Rouge.

But government spokesman Phay Siphan said the two sides had a "different interpretation" of the agreement and insisted Cambodia had the right not to endorse the Swiss judge.

"We need more discussions to solve this so no one loses face or loses their integrity," he told AFP, refusing to say how the stand-off could be resolved.

According to court rules, the reserve judge must be appointed if there is a vacancy, a situation that arose when a German judge abruptly quit in October citing government opposition to further prosecutions.

Kasper-Ansermet recently said on Twitter that he fully intended to investigate the two cases, which involve five former Khmer Rouge members, to the dismay of the Cambodian government.

Kasper-Ansermet's Cambodian counterpart You Bunleng has publicly refused to work with the Swiss so long as he is not legally accredited.

Scheffer said Kasper-Ansermet "does not need You Bunleng" to carry out investigations.

The tribunal has so far completed just one trial, jailing a former Khmer Rouge prison chief for overseeing the deaths of some 15,000 people.

A second trial involving three senior regime leaders is ongoing but the landmark proceedings risk being overshadowed by the current controversy.

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