Gov’t Hopeful on KR Draft

As the government readies for a debate today on how to try one-time Khmer Rouge leaders, officials Wednesday said their counterparts in New York will meet with the UN to discuss whether the government’s most recent plan is sufficient to secure UN involvement in the proceedings.

Minister of Cabinet Sok An told reporters on Wednesday that since the draft was first completed in late December, “the points the UN Secretary-General is interested in, we have complied with.”

Of those changes, according to a copy of the revised draft law, is how the trial would be funded.

The government had called on the UN to establish a trust fund for a primarily Cam­bodian court. But the current law pledges that the Cambodian government will pay for its own jud­ges, prosecutors and staff. And the UN and individual member states will pay for their own jurists.

Moreover, the revised draft hints that if the UN chooses not to participate in the trial, the government would accept appointments from other countries instead of filling the bench with Cambodian judges.

When asked if the draft law would pass the Council of Ministers today, two key officials said they were optimistic.

Minister of Commerce Cham Prasidh this week said he had little doubt the draft would pass. Om Yentieng, a top adviser to Prime Minister Hun Sen, agreed.

“It should pass, because we don’t have much to discuss,” he said.

He added, however, that the government’s original hope to begin the trial within the first quarter of this year might be a bit overzealous.

“Practically speaking, we send it to Parliament, wait for a time, they adopt it, it goes to the Senate, they pass it on to the Constitutional Council—even if they have no problems, this still will take a while,” Om Yentieng said.

But he denounced suggestions he said the UN has made to prolong the trial over a period of years.

“In the case of an international tribunal, perhaps this is logical. But for a national tribunal, I think it will only takes a few months.”

Other analysts on Wednesday suggested the government might push for a symbolic date to begin the trial.

With the 25-year anniversary of the fall of Phnom Penh to the Khmer Rouge approaching in April, “Watch for that date. Plan on it,” said Youk Chhang, executive director of the Documentation Center of Cambodia, where potential evidence for the trial has been amassed since 1995.

Today’s meeting in the Council of Ministers falls on the eve of the overthrow of the Khmer Rouge by the Vietnamese 21 years ago.

Although the current draft was expected to pass the Council of Ministers before it was again revised, the cabinet tabled it in late December to take more time to negotiate with the UN.

Throughout the day on Wednesday, Sok An met with ambassadors from interested countries, including Japan, Russia and the US.

Since the government began debate with the UN over whether Cambodian or foreign judges would hold a majority on the Khmer Rouge court, it has sought advice from “friendly” countries.

In particular, the US State Department proposed a “super-majority” plan that would require at least one foreign judge’s approval to reach a verdict, even though the court would have a majority of Cambodian judges.

In an earlier interview, US Ambassador Kent Wiedemann said he was not too concerned about a provision in the draft that calls for judges to be appointed by the controversial Cambodian Supreme Council of Magistracy.

“There are matters of procedure that don’t have to be present in the law,” he said, suggesting that the UN will be heavily involved in which judges are appointed, whether from within the country or without.

“This is, and will continue to be, a give and take process, back and forth,” he added.

UN officials in New York said on Wednesday they have received and are studying copy of the revised draft law.

After the Cambodian government rejected an international tribunal earlier this year, it has held tough on retaining control of a more national, “mixed” tribunal with both foreign and Cambodian judges.

This most recent draft law comes after months of apparent stalemate between the two bodies. (Additional reporting by Kay Kimsong and Associated Press)



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