The UN says enough money has been collected to finally start work on the Khmer Rouge tribunal, though full funding for the three-year trial has not yet been secured.
The news was met with a mixture of optimism and skepticism, with some hoping operations could begin within three months while others were waiting to see whether new delays would emerge.
UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan notified Prime Minister Hun Sen that the tribunal could move forward in a letter Friday, saying the UN had fulfilled its end of an agreement between the two sides, according to the UN News Service.
In a statement quoted by the news service, Kofi Annan said the UN wanted the tribunal established “as soon as possible” and “no efforts will be spared on his part to help ensure that.”
Annan sent the letter the same day the European Union announced it would pledge $1.3 million, bringing the total contributed or pledged by the international community to about $39.9 million.
The international community is to pledge $43 million while the government is to contribute $13.3 million. The government is continuing its search for partners to help cover its share, members of the government’s Khmer Rouge tribunal taskforce said.
Last month, the government said it would contribute $1.5 million in cash and $5.2 million as in kind expenses.
In a statement last year, Annan had said the tribunal would not proceed until funding for the full $56.3-million trial had been secured and money for the first year was in the bank.
Helen Jarvis, a member of the government’s Khmer Rouge tribunal taskforce, said the UN’s latest announcement set the tribunal down the path to reality.
The UN and Cambodia will appoint senior administrators, fill staff positions and work on the logistics to get the tribunal off the ground, Jarvis said Sunday.
She said she is hopeful the groundwork can be laid within three months so judges and prosecutors can begin working on the expected six- to 12-month investigation phase.
“Obviously the actual prosecution cannot begin so soon,” she said, though work has been going on behind the scenes.
But there are many challenges to be met before a successful trial can even begin, let alone function, Licadho president Kek Galabru said.
Judges must be independent and qualified, witnesses and victims must be protected and the court’s rules and procedures must be ironed out, she said.
“I think there will be a lot of problems,” she said. “Now the ball is in the hands of Cambodia. What else is the excuse not to set it up? Do they want to play or not?”
Government taskforce secretariat Sean Visoth dismissed questions about the government’s interest in seeing the tribunal happen.
“We have spent a lot of strength over the past five years,” he said. “Why are you accusing us of not being willing” to try the Khmer Rouge?