A Cambodian delegation will meet with UN officials in New York today to discuss the possibility of restarting negotiations for a Khmer Rouge war crimes tribunal.
“I am optimistic that these negotiations will be fruitful,” said Minister of Cabinet Sok An, head of Cambodia’s four-member negotiating team, as he left Phnom Penh for the talks Saturday night.
The meeting scheduled to begin today is seen as a precursor to broader talks to be held in Phnom Penh at a later date.
Sok An is expected to meet with Hans Corell, chief of the UN’s legal office and the man who has steered the UN’s talks with Cambodia in the past.
This week’s meeting restarts a process that stalled in February when UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan withdrew saying the Cambodians could not guarantee an independent court. Annan was ordered last month to return to the negotiating table by UN member nations.
The UN mandate asks that the trial process “adhere” to international standards, but the language was not strong enough to win the confidence of Canada or most of the European Union, which abstained from the vote.
Human rights groups have also decried the mandate for what they say is soft language that grants too much control of the court to Cambodia’s notoriously corrupt judiciary.
Speaking Saturday night, Sok An said both sides have come a long way toward agreement and that a deal is possible. “The Cambodian stand and the UN stand are similar,” he said. “We already made long negotiation and we have reached agreement on the main points leading us to draft a Khmer Rouge tribunal law.”
Traveling with Sok An were delegation members Helen Jarvis, an adviser to Sok An, Tony Kranh, a member of the council of jurists, and Sean Visoth, another adviser.
No credible court has ever held the leaders of the Khmer Rouge responsible for the more than 1 million Cambodians who died of illness, execution, starvation and overwork under their authoritarian regime.