After announcing last week the return of a UN delegation to prepare the budget and logistics for the Khmer Rouge tribunal, government officials have abruptly canceled the UN team’s visit, saying they will postpone the visit until the National Assembly ratifies legislation to establish the tribunal.
Suspending the UN delegation’s arrival, originally scheduled for Tuesday, will hasten the draft bill’s ratification, Prime Minister Hun Sen’s adviser Om Yentieng said Sunday. The team will be invited back once the bill is passed, he said.
“I think the suspension will not be a waste of time,” Om Yentieng said. He declined to provide further details for the decision.
Some observers, however, said the cancellation could be a signal to the UN of the government’s dissatisfaction with the Khmer Rouge tribunal’s lackluster bank account.
The tribunal budget has been a constant sticking point. Earlier this year, donors criticized the government’s multimillion-dollar proposed budget as bloated and corruption-prone, and a tepid international response to fundraising efforts has shadowed the prospects of a trial anytime soon.
“Even if a [Khmer Rouge] bill is ratified by Parliament, this…trial will still not take place if the funds don’t come in,” said one Asian diplomat Sunday. “The bottom line is, there’s no money for the Khmer Rouge trial. Maybe [the cancellation] is their way of showing some kind of displeasure.”
UN officials in Cambodia could not be reached by telephone Sunday. Most diplomats contacted Sunday declined to comment on the government’s decision.
Khmer Rouge scholar Craig Etcheson said Sunday: “Everybody’s concerned about [the budget]. It’s a problem.”
The UN team’s visit was centered on a meeting with the Cambodian Khmer Rouge tribunal task force to discuss security and another with the government and potential donor countries to formulate a budget.
In July, the secretary-general of the government’s tribunal task force, Sean Visoth, downplayed concerns that the government was dodging the UN’s successive attempts to arrange the visit, saying officials here were too busy with the formation of the new government to meet.
In an e-mail received July, UN tribunal coordinator Karsten Herrel wrote that it would be “desirable” for the task forces to reach a consensus on the budget before UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan’s address to the General Assembly on the tribunal’s progress, then planned for August. Annan is now scheduled to make that speech at the end of this month. Deputy Prime Minister Hor Namhong will also address the General Assembly, after Hun Sen’s abrupt decision last week to cancel his New York trip.
The tribunal draft bill has been accepted by the National Assembly’s legislation commission and is waiting to be added to the agenda by the permanent committee, commission chairman Ek Sam Ol said Sunday.
The Assembly is expected to vote on the bill shortly after the Asean Inter-Parliamentary Organization meeting ends Friday.