The head of a UN team assisting the government in establishing a Khmer Rouge tribunal left his position last week, tribunal insiders said Tuesday.
While several sources said they did not know why Karsten Herrel departed from the tribunal mission, local UN Development Program spokeswoman Christelle Chapoy said Herrel’s contract had neared expiration.
She confirmed that Herrel would remain in the employ of the world body, at a job related to the African nation of Burundi. Officials at UN headquarters in New York had not yet given an explanation for Herrel’s departure, Chapoy said. She also said she did not know who would succeed him.
Herrel entered the long and sometimes strained tribunal negotiation process last year after the UN and the Cambodian government agreed to prosecute the surviving leaders of the Khmer Rouge’s 1975-79 regime.
Despite that breakthrough agreement, observers have continued to describe the process as an uphill endeavor.
Herrel’s exasperation became evident in July when he complained to his Cambodian counterpart, Sean Visoth, that his communications had gone weeks without reply.
At the time, Herrel was trying to schedule a visit to Cambodia to finalize the tribunal’s budget. Because of timing conflicts on both sides, the visit has been repeatedly postponed and has not been rescheduled.
Herrel also struggled to convince interested nations that a Khmer Rouge tribunal was worth funding. At the end of his March visit to Phnom Penh, he announced a budget estimate of more than $50 million. Months later, word drifted back from New York that the figure had met fierce resistance from donors. Some of the same nations that had long urged prosecution of surviving Khmer Rouge leaders wanted the trials to cost as little as $30 million—a sum experts said would ensure a judicial travesty.
Sean Visoth could not be reached for comment Tuesday.
Prime Minister Hun Sen’s adviser Om Yentieng said Tuesday he had not heard about Herrel’s departure but said it would have little bearing on the tribunal. “The UN is a big organization, so there will be a new person to replace him,” he said.
He also said he hoped that Acting Head of State Chea Sim would sign off on the recently amended Khmer Rouge tribunal law this week. The Senate approved the National Assembly’s amendments on Friday.