The UN and the Cambodian government have cleared the way for a draft law establishing a Khmer Rouge trial to be debated in the National Assembly, Australia’s Minister of Foreign Affairs Alexander Downer said Friday.
Downer warned, however, that the assembly could pose “another hurdle” in the process before the law is ratified and a formal agreement is signed with the UN.
“We made it clear to the Cambodian government that…we wouldn’t want to see [the draft] get bogged down in the National Assembly,” Downer said. “We would like to see it pushed through the National Assembly as quickly as humanly possible.”
Downer said he was confident that the current diplomatic phase in the debate over the trial of former Khmer Rouge leaders will end soon with a letter from the government to UN Secretary- General Kofi Annan.
For two weeks, the government has been waiting for UN approval of the “Kerry agreement”—a verbal understanding reached early this month between Prime Minister Hun Sen and US Senator John Kerry on the prosecution, the final sticking point between the UN and the government.
But the UN hesitated to respond after Hun Sen made a series of statements about changing the law’s jurisdiction clause, diplomats said this week. Moreover, they said, many UN leaders were preoccupied with the worsening civil war in Sierra Leone.
Downer said Friday the UN letter has been signed by Annan and sent to the government. He said Hun Sen gave him every assurance that the government will respond swiftly and positively.
The Kerry agreement involves an elaborate “resolution panel” that would serve as a check if the majority of Cambodian judges tries to block a suspect from being charged.
Downer said he and Hun Sen also discussed a separate proceeding for Khmer Rouge members responsible for the 1994 kidnapping and death of three tourists, one of whom was an Australian.
In the case of former Khmer Rouge commander and current RCAF two-star general Sam Bith, who is suspected of leading the raid but has not yet been charged despite failing to appear for questioning, Downer said, “We would hope that [he] be charged.
“When charges are laid, I expect the Cambodian authorities to apprehend him,” he said.
Australia is Cambodia’s third-largest donor, and Downer also highlighted a number of aid programs Friday. He said Australia will contribute roughly $21 million over the next year to programs geared toward agriculture, the justice system and de-mining.
Despite damning reports of corruption within the Cambodian Mine Action Center, Downer said he hopes the difficulties there “will be resolved before too long.
“We have a very strong on-going commitment to ridding Cambodia of the scourge of land mines,” he said, adding that Australia supports a separate de-mining program in Cambodia.
Cambodia’s Minister of Foreign Affairs Hor Namhong on Friday praised Australia for its ongoing support and help in “improving the social economy.”
All Cambodia’s donors will convene next week in Paris for the Consultative Group meeting, where the government plans to ask for $1.5 billion over the next three years. Australia has pledged to increase its total aid to Cambodia by 3 percent, Downer said.
Not only has the government made some key reforms over the last year, he said, but he hopes improvements in the Cambodian economy will encourage increased investment by Australian companies.