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Monday, October 24, 2011

UN urges Cambodia not to meddle

The United Nations has 'strongly urged' the Cambodian government not to meddle in the work of a UN-backed Khmer Rouge court after a judge quit, citing political opposition to two new cases.

'The Legal Counsel strongly urged the royal government of Cambodia to refrain from statements opposing the progress of cases 003 and 004 and to refrain from interfering in any way whatsoever with the judicial process,' said UN under-secretary general for legal affairs Patricia O'Brien in a statement on Thursday.

The high-ranking UN official was speaking after meeting Cambodian Deputy Prime Minister Sok An in the capital, Phnom Penh, amid mounting concern over political pressure on the tribunal.

German judge Siegfried Blunk resigned on October 9 claiming repeated government statements opposing two possible new cases linked to the 1975-1979 Khmer Rouge regime effectively made his position untenable.

The shock departure of Blunk, one of two judges responsible for issuing indictments, has rocked the court and prompted observers to call for UN action against long-standing allegations of government meddling.

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

Court monitor Randle DeFalco, a legal adviser to the Documentation Centre of Cambodia, which researches Khmer Rouge atrocities, cautiously welcomed O'Brien's comments, the UN's strongest reaction yet to the court controversy.

'It's a step in the right direction,' he said.

'But an inquiry still appears necessary to restore public confidence in the court,' he added, noting that Blunk's resignation raised questions over whether the court's investigating office has been properly carrying out its duties.

In a media release after the meeting with O'Brien, the government said both parties had 'reiterated their strong support' for the Khmer Rouge tribunal, which has cost more than $US100 million ($A98 million).

Sok An also urged both sides not 'to be distracted by intense speculation, pressure and interference from the media and other outside parties', it said.

The tribunal's controversial third and fourth cases involve five ex-regime members who are accused of an array of crimes, including mass killings and forced labour.

Their cases 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 and they were widely expected to be dismissed.

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 some 15,000 people. The case is now under appeal.

A second trial involving the regime's four most senior surviving leaders - including Brother Number Two' Nuon Chea - is expected to start hearing testimony next month.

A lawyer for one of the accused in that case, ex-social affairs minister Ieng Thirith, told the court on Thursday her client suffers from dementia and should not have to face trial.

Judges are expected to rule on the elderly woman's mental fitness in the coming weeks.

Led by Brother Number One' Pol Pot, who died in 1998, the Khmer Rouge wiped out nearly a quarter of the population through starvation, overwork or execution in a bid to create an agrarian utopia.
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Kidnap Victim Released Unharmed, Father Says

So Ath No was recovering from his ordeal and would not speak to reporters, So Phon said.

So Ath No, the 49-year-old son of a senior government official, was released by kidnappers in the predawn hours Monday, nearly two weeks after his abduction.

The kidnappers had originally asked for a $1 million ransom from his father, So Phon, who is an undersecretary of state at the Ministry of Interior.

So Phon said Monday he had paid no ransom and did not know the reason his son was released.

So Ath No was taken by four men from his home in Phnom Penh’s Russey Keo district on Oct 8. He was released around 1 pm in Tuol Kork district and took a motorcycle taxi home, So Phon said.

So Ath No was recovering from his ordeal and would not speak to reporters, So Phon said. He said he wanted to thank the kidnappers for releasing his son unharmed.

It remains unclear whether police have any leads in the kidnapping. Kiet Chantharith, a spokesman for the national police, said he had not been informed of So Ath No’s release.

Other police officials were not available for comment.
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Khmer Rouge defense files suit against Hun Sen

PHNOM PENH, Cambodia (AP) — Defense lawyers in Cambodia's Khmer Rouge genocide trial filed a complaint Monday accusing Prime Minister Hun Sen of interfering in the proceedings.
Two lawyers for Nuon Chea alleged in a criminal complaint at Phnom Penh Municipal Court that Hun Sen and others in the government had blocked some witnesses from testifying and interfered with the defendants' right to a fair trial.
Previous similar challenges on side issues have failed to affect the proceedings.
Keo Ramy, a spokesman for Cambodia's Cabinet, said the government has not interfered in the tribunal's work and that Nuon Chea's lawyers were just carrying out a delaying tactic.

Nuon Chea, the No. 2 Khmer Rouge leader, is to go on trial with three other defendants late next month. The U.N.-backed tribunal is seeking justice for an estimated 1.7 million people who died of starvation, exhaustion, lack of medical care or torture during the communist Khmer Rouge's 1970s rule.

The four defendants have been indicted on charges of war crimes, crimes against humanity, genocide, religious persecution, homicide and torture.

Hun Sen has publicly chided and threatened the tribunal several times, saying it should not extend its prosecutions beyond the four people to be tried next month and one who has already been convicted. He says more trials could be divisive and even lead to civil war. Many believe, however, that Hun Sen fears his political allies could face indictment.

Some human rights groups accuse the U.N. of bending to Hun Sen's will at the cost of true justice.

Earlier this month, Siegfried Blunk — the tribunal's German judge responsible for indictments — resigned, alleging that government interference in the investigation of new cases could give the impression he was bowing to pressure.

Blunk defended his record, blaming government pressure for the lack of new cases. He cited Cambodia's information minister as saying in May that if investigating judges wanted to probe new cases, "they should pack their bags and leave."
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