Senior RCAF officials handed over two of the three buildings at their national headquarters in Kandal province to members of the government’s Khmer Rouge tribunal taskforce in a low-key ceremony on Wednesday.
For the next three years, the two buildings, located several kilometers outside Phnom Penh in Ang Snuol district, will house the long-awaited tribunal’s Extraordinary Chambers. The third building at the site will be retained by RCAF.
“This handover is an important milestone in the long history of bringing accountability for these crimes,” tribunal coordinator Sean Visoth said. “Today marks in bricks and mortar the realization of the long-awaited establishment of the Extraordinary Chambers.”
He added that the UN’s tribunal team, led by Deputy Coordinator Michelle Lee, is scheduled to arrive in the coming weeks, and that the joint tribunal contingent will move onto the site in early February.
The government first proposed using the compound in December 2004, prompting fears that the tribunal’s close proximity to RCAF headquarters could influence the court and intimidate witnesses.
But the UN and representatives from countries involved in the tribunal approved the location on June 30, with conditions: The areas where the tribunal will be held must be totally isolated from active military personnel and operations; separate entrances must be built; and adequate transportation from Phnom Penh must be provided for the public.
Sean Visoth said a fence will be built to separate the two buildings from the one retained by RCAF, but added: “It will not start yet because we don’t have enough money.”
The government says it is still trying to find ways to cover its $13.3-million share of the $56.3-million tribunal budget. However, Sean Visoth said Thailand has joined the growing list of countries contributing to Cambodia’s portion of the bill. Thai Ambassador Piyawat Niyomrerks confirmed that Thailand has pledged $25,000 on behalf of the Cambodian government.
“We think supporting the Khmer Rouge tribunal is the right thing to do,” he said. “We are not a very rich country but we put [the money] as a token of our support.”
The government now needs about $9.5 million more to cover its part of the budget. Sen Komary, health director at RCAF headquarters, said military staff from the health office moved back to their old location near Wat Phnom about a month ago. Documentation Center of Cambodia Executive Director Youk Chhang said he was strongly in favor of holding the tribunal at the site.
“I think this is the perfect location,” he said. “The name itself is intimidating but there’s no military there. Maybe they should change the name.”