Buzz Around Capitol? Let Gov’t Fund Tribunal

Wasps circled the nozzles of Hor Vantha’s mobile drink machine as he finished pouring a soft drink for a Chaktomuk junior high school student on Monday.

In the time it took Hor Vantha to pour the drink, he had decided on the question: Would he donate money for a Khmer Rouge tribunal to help cover the government’s $11.8-million shortfall?

“We cannot provide funds for the tribunal when we are just trying to feed ourselves,” the 25-year-old said.

Though in favor of a tribunal, Hor Vantha said he believed that the government was too poor to pay $11.8 million. The same could not be said for certain politicians, he added.

“The government is poor,” Hor Vantha said. “But the politicians are rich.”

Several prominent Cambodian business leaders said Sunday that they would consider contributing to the tribunal’s cost if the government asked them directly.

On Monday, Sam Rainsy Party spokesman Ung Bun-Ang called on the government to organize a national fund-raiser to make up the shortfall—which the government has said is the final hurdle to seeing the long-awaited tribunal take place.

“It seems everyone has been contributing to fund the Khmer Rouge tribunal except the Cambodian people themselves, here and abroad,” Ung Bun-Ang wrote in a statement.

“They are not rich,” he went on, “but the Khmer people living inside and outside the country can manage on average $1 per head to kick-start the trial that means so much to them.”

While some people interviewed around Phnom Penh on Monday said they wanted the Khmer Rouge tribunal to become a reality, most said they would not personally contribute money for various reasons.

“I would not provide because the government has money and the politicians are rich,” said Phan Vy, 65, who owns an art gallery near the National Museum.

“Why do they need to collect from the poor people?” she asked. “It is the government’s responsibility to secure the funds.”

Cyclo driver Chan Sarun, 65, said he wouldn’t contribute and didn’t see the point of having a tribunal anyway.

“Why do they need to have a trial?” he asked. “Pol Pot is dead, so how can we find out the truth about what happened?”

As to whom should foot the tribunal bill, Chan Sarun said: “If the government wants to take money, they can take it from the rich people.”

Two British tourists, Paul Curtis and Louise Innes, said they might be inclined to contribute if donation boxes were set up around the country.

But, they said they would want to know where the money is going and what controls were in place to ensure it isn’t skimmed off.

Kek Galabru, president of local rights group Licadho, said the government should launch a fundraising campaign, even if only to show that Cambodians support the tribunal.

The government’s Khmer Rouge task force secretary, Sean Visoth, refused to comment on the fundraising options Monday.

Helen Jarvis, also of the task force, refused to comment on Ung Bun-Ang’s fundraising proposal.

Jarvis, however, said the door has always been open to donations from individuals and organizations, though she did not know what controls were in place to ensure that the money goes to the intended purpose.

“You will have to ask the Ministry of Finance,” she said.

Ministry of Finance officials could not be reached for comment Monday.

Documentation Center of Cambodian historian Meng-Try Ea called on Monday for the government to make a clear appeal to Cambodians for contributions.

“I would like to call for a formal appeal from the government to all survivors of the Khmer Rouge regime who are now living inside and outside Cambodia,” Meng-Try Ea wrote in a letter from Rutgers University in the US, where he is currently studying.

“As a student, I am not making good money today. However, I will be more than happy to donate money for the Khmer Rouge tribunal to find justice for my relatives who were killed,” he wrote.

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