Prince Ranariddh: Put Poverty Before Tribunal

The government does not want to use bilateral assistance money from Japan to cover its $11.8-million shortfall for the Khmer Rouge tribunal budget because the money is needed elsewhere, National Assembly President Prince Norodom Ranariddh said Wednesday.

In addition, the prince said he does not plan to use a trip to UN headquarters in New York next week to lobby the international community for additional funding for the tribunal because the country is facing more pressing problems.

“Our priority is poverty reduction,” he said. “Frankly speaking, if I lobby, I would do so for food and Cambodian restoration and development.”

While the UN continues making progress toward establishing a tribunal, the government says its funding shortfall has prevented Cambodia from doing the same.

The prince said he will travel to New York on Sept 9 for a conference and hopes to meet UN officials involved in the tribunal.

“I think we should make requests for other money [for the tribunal] rather than using this money,” he said of the Japanese offer.

According to an agreement between Cambodia and the UN signed last year, the UN is to pay $43 million of the $56.3 million tribunal budget, with the government responsible for coming up with the remaining $13.3 million.

The government, however, has stated that it can only pay $1.5 million and has repeatedly appealed to international donors for the remaining $11.8 million.

In June, the Japanese government said it would allow the Cambodian government to use bilateral assistance money originally intended for development to cover the funding shortage.

“If we can avoid using this [bilateral assistance] that is good, because we need it for infrastructure, to fight disasters…which is better than spending it for the tribunal in my opinion,” Prince Ranariddh said.

Despite the lack of funds, however, Prince Ranariddh quoted Deputy Prime Minister Sok An, who is also the head of the government’s Khmer Rouge tribunal taskforce, as saying that the government would start preparations for the tribunal by November and no later than December.

Earlier in the day, Sok An said that the government will continue appealing to the international community to cover the shortfall.

“We do not lack money, but must take into consideration the fact that [Japan] does not want to be the only one paying it off. We are waiting for other countries that can contribute,” Sok An said.

The Japanese Embassy said it has not “finalized its position” on he funding issue but declined further comment Wednesday.

Sok An said the government is currently drawing up the criteria judges and prosecutors must meet to serve in the tribunal’s extraordinary chambers. Sok An said the appointment of all positions won’t be far in the future.

Rights groups and the international community have asked the government to shed light on the selection process, which is considered one of the most critical steps in establishing the chambers.

A Western diplomat, whose country has already pledged funds, said, contrary to statements from some government taskforce members, the international community has always expected the government to pay for its own share of the tribunal.

“The donors very much expect the government to fulfill its part of the deal,” the diplomat said.

“I don’t see another donor jumping in to cover the Cambodian side.”

(Additional reporting by Michael Cowden)

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