Senate Ready To Move Quickly on KR Law

The Senate hopes to receive the Khmer Rouge draft law this weekend, and the body is expected to pass it within one week, parliamentarians said Wednesday.

Kol Pheng, secretary-general of the National Assembly, said the draft law has not yet been sent to the Senate because the legislation to try former Khmer Rouge leaders is being checked to make sure it is perfect before National Assembly President Prince Noro­dom Ranariddh signs it.

Kol Pheng said he expected the draft law to be sent to the Senate this weekend and predicted it would move quickly, as it did in the National Assembly, which passed the legislation in a 92-0 vote on Tuesday.

After the Senate is finished with the draft law, it will go to the Con­stitutional Council and then to King Norodom Sihanouk for approval. If the King approves, the government would then have permission to sign a memorandum with the UN to make the agreement official.

The Senate Permanent Com­mit­tee, which decides when legislation would go on the Senate’s agenda, planned to meet today to go over the national budget, said Kem Sokha, a Senate permanent committee member. The Khmer Rouge draft law will not be discussed by the committee.

But Kem Sokha said the Sen­ate would consider the draft law quickly. He cited a provision in the Constitution that says any law that is deemed to be urgent has to be considered by the Senate within one week.

The international community welcomed the passage of the Khmer Rouge law by the Na­tional Assembly, which came after a year of government negotiations with the UN.

Richard Boucher, spokesman for the US State Department, said the “people of Cambodia can take great pride in this important endeavor to judge the Khmer Rouge leadership.”

“The National Assembly’s action represents a major step forward for credible accountability for the massive crimes that took place under the leadership of Pol Pot,” Boucher said.

UN spokesman Farhan Haq said the world body’s legal ex­perts have yet to scrutinize the draft law. He said that only when an official English translation is available will it be possible to decide whether the UN can enter a formal agreement with Cambodia.

Observers said the next critical challenge is where the draft law will go next. The wrangling be­tween the government and the UN, and accusations of stalling on the government’s part have led many to view the proceedings cautiously, despite the unanimous Na­tional Assembly vote.

US Senator John Kerry, who visited Cambodia in November to push the draft law forward, said passage by the National Assem­bly was an important step forward, but he stressed everyone should “remain vigilant” and insist on follow-up action.

The draft law would cover crimes allegedly committed by only the Khmer Rouge’s top leaders between April 17, 1975, when the communist group took over Phnom Penh, to Jan 6, 1979, the last day the movement was in power before it was ousted by Vietnamese troops.

One major question that re­mains is whether Ieng Sary, former deputy premier of the Kh­mer Rouge regime will be tried. Ieng Sary led a mass defection to the government in 1996 and Prime Minister Hun Sen has said he will not support prosecution of “Brother No 3.” Hun Sen also warned that going after Ieng Sary could once again bring instability to Cambodia.

Ieng Sary’s son, Ieng Vuth, who is first deputy governor of the former Khmer Rouge stronghold of Pailin, said there would not be any problems because of the tribunal. “The National As­sem­bly approved this draft law and they are representatives of the people,” he said. “We have to follow what they say.”

As the government pushes the draft law through the appropriate channels, officials are also considering the massive amount of logistical support needed to prepare for and hold a trial.

According to the draft law, all the Cambodian judges, prosecutors and other staff would be given salaries from the national budget, about half of which comes from international donors. The foreign staff for the tribunal would be paid through a UN trust fund.

A Ministry of Finance official said Hun Sen or Finance Minister Keat Chhon would have to re­quest funding from the ministry, as the government recently did for flood relief. The official said the ministry had a reserve fund, but he doubted it would be enough to cover the cost of a tribunal.

Sok An, minister of cabinet and head of the government’s negotiating team on the draft law, said the UN would ask the international community to help pay for a building that would house the staff needed to prepare for a Khmer Rouge trial.

The building would be erected in the courtyard of Chaktomuk Theater in Phnom Penh, where the government and the UN agreed the trial would be held.

Sok An said that during the negotiations some suggested holding the trial at Khmer Rouge commander Ta Mok’s home in Takeo province. Ta Mok and S-21 prison head Duch are the only Khmer Rouge leaders in custody.

Funding would also be solicited to build a monument to commemorate the tribunal, Sok An said. “The UN saw the building of a justice monument as an important issue,” he said.

(Additional reporting by Thet Sambath and Agence France-Presse)



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