Australia Pledges $456,000 to KR Tribunal

Australia has pledged $456,000 to the Cambodian side of the Khmer Rouge tribunal, the first new aid injection the cash-strapped court has gotten in its long-delayed fundraising round, officials said Thursday.

“It’s very important that this process continues, and we didn’t want to see it cease for want of a small contribution to the Cam­bodian side of the budget,” said Bob McMullan, Australia’s Parliamentary Secretary for International Development Assistance.

McMullan said the new funds would be disbursed promptly. “We have the money. It’s available now,” he said, speaking at a press conference with Cabinet Minister Sok An in Phnom Penh.

Sok An expressed confidence that the Extraordinary Chambers in the Courts of Cambodia, which is seeking an additional $114 million, would not falter for want of funds.

“The ECCC will be supported,” he said.

ECCC Public Affairs Chief Helen Jarvis said she did not know how much more time Australia’s money would buy the Cambodian side of the court.

“Now we have to see what can be done,” she said, adding that the donation is “a very encouraging sign for us.”

Budget resolution seems far off.

Donors and court administrators are now embroiled in tough negotiations over just how much more money the ECCC, originally budgeted at $56.3 million, really needs.

Donors have also been seeking reassurance that the tribunal has redressed the serious management problems and irregular hiring practices highlighted by two independent reviews last year. Some asked for a direct investigation of charges that Cambodian staff had to give kickbacks for jobs—a request the government did not embrace.

German Ambassador Frank Marcus Mann said Thursday that it was too early to make a decision on funding. First, he said: “We need a final budget proposal.”

Donors, led by Japan, submitted detailed questions to court administrators, asking for justification of increased staffing and budget levels, administrative strategies, and details of the planned timeline, said Laurent Lemarchand, first councilor at the French embassy.

Discussion of those points is ongoing. “We have to see what kind of money we’re talking about,” Lemarchand said. “We’ll have a look at the figures and decide if we are convinced.”

McMullan said Australia’s stop-gap contribution is separate from the ongoing, multilateral budget discussions for the court.

“We are, with the other members of the international community, having serious discussions about the proper level of the budget,” McMullan said. “We have to be sure the budget is adequate but not excessive and that the money is properly spent.”

Australia has committed $3.8 million to the trials since 2003.

Rafael Dochao-Moreno, the European Commission’s Charge d’Affaires in Phnom Penh, welcomed Australia’s announcement. “It’s good news. It shows the donors, the international community are still supporting the tribunal,” he said.

He added that the “encouraging” results of a recent review of court reforms opened the way for continuing assistance.

“We believe sufficient measures are now in place to prevent mismanagement from occurring,” he said.

The US State Department has halted its effort to seek funds for the tribunal.

“Our understanding is that the Cambodian government is confident the ECCC can attract adequate funding from other sources,” US embassy spokes­man Jeff Daigle said by e-mail Thursday.

Sok An said hursday the government had not rejected US funding out of hand.

“We welcome contributions from all friends of Cambodia,” he said.

    (Additional reporting by Prak Chan Thul)

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