US Pledges $1.8 Million to Int’l Side of KRT

Ending years of US reluctance to fund any Cambodian court created to try the Khmer Rouge, visiting US Deputy Secretary of State John Negroponte on Tuesday announced a pledge of $1.8 million to the UN side of the Extraordinary Chambers in the Courts of Cambodia.

Though it had been facing the exhaustion of its funding in the coming weeks, the court’s UN side on Tuesday said it hoped the donation, the first to the court’s UN side since April, would encourage other donors to come forward.

Speaking to reporters at the US Embassy, Negroponte said the US had determined that the time was at last right for a US contribution.

“We believe the conditions are both appropriate and opportune to make this contribution. We have been talking to our Congress and those who are interested in the tribunal, and I think there’s generally a consensus that this is a good time to more forward in support of the tribunal,” said Negroponte, the State Department’s second-highest ranking official.

US negotiators took a leading role early on during discussions over the tribunal’s creation. However, despite a 1994 law stating that Khmer Rouge trials were an express goal of the US, Congress in 2004 and 2005 barred US funding to the court until the State Department verified that the court could meet international fair trial standards.

Discussions over US funding this year also had their ups and downs. The US Embassy announced in March that that the US was not seeking to provide funds, as Cambodian officials were confident they could be obtained from other donors. However the embassy said in May that an official from the State Department’s office of war crimes issues had visited Cambodia to help assess the tribunal’s compliance with international standards as part of a consideration of possible funding.

Negroponte referred questions about the review back to the embassy.

Queries submitted this week to both the State Department and the embassy were not immediately answered.

Negroponte said however that the US hoped to continue donating to the tribunal for the duration of its existence and that Tuesday’s announcement could give the US a voice in donor discussions about the court’s management.

The US had taken note of critical human resources reviews in 2007, which had criticized the court’s hiring practices and called its hybrid structure inefficient.

“There have been some issues about the management of the court but they have not risen to the level where we felt that it justified withholding any contribution to the court any further,” Negroponte said.

Peter Foster, the court’s UN spokesman, said Tuesday that the donation was a welcome vote of confidence in the tribunal’s work.

“The funds will obviously extend the working capital for the UN side of the court for some time, but more importantly we hope this will signal the first of many such announcements from the donor community,” he said.

With the US pledge announced Tuesday, the court’s UN side still requires just over $30 million for operations until the end of 2009.

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