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UN Reports Call for Changes in Structure of Khmer Rouge Tribunal


A United Nations agency says the U.N. should pull out of the special tribunal set up to try leaders of Cambodia's genocidal Khmer Rouge government unless reforms are made. Separately, two United Nations experts have reported serious problems with the administration and hybrid structure of the tribunal. Rory Byrne reports for VOA from Phnom Penh.

The United Nations Development Program was commissioned last year to report on hiring practices at the Khmer Rouge Tribunal. The assignment followed allegations that Cambodian employees had paid court officials to obtain their positions with the tribunal.

A UNDP report published this week says no evidence of salary kickbacks was discovered. But the report says investigators did find that the Tribunal is employing unqualified Cambodian staff, at inflated salaries, and without proper hiring procedures.

The report says that if the Cambodian side of the tribunal does not agree to reforms in procedures and structure, "serious consideration should be given to withdrawing from participation in the project altogether."

A second U.N. report this week pointed out numerous administrative shortcomings, and recommended shifting control of crucial court functions to the United Nations.

The tribunal is a joint U.N.-Cambodian court, with Cambodian judges holding three of the five slots. The other two are held by international jurists selected by the U.N. The second report says that because Cambodia's judiciary is weak, the tribunal may be subject to political interference.

Peter Foster, the official spokesman for the U.N. side of the hybrid court, says the reports are being studied for possible action.

However, experts say that fully implementing the recommendations would require re-negotiating the agreements that established the tribunal - a move Foster says would endanger the whole process.

"Renegotiation would take some time," he said. "We have to remember that it took 13 years to get to the agreement that we have in place now, and we certainly don't want to reopen that and spend another 13 years."

Foster says it is possible the U.N. can take more of a "leadership role" without making major changes to the existing agreements.

"A 'leadership role' is a term that can be defined in many ways, it doesn't necessarily means that we have to renegotiate part of the contract or part of the agreement or change the basic fundamentals of how we're structured," he said. "We can certainly make adjustments within the current system to provide greater assistance and greater advice to our Cambodian colleagues…"

Foster says some remedial measures have already been taken, and that experts are being recruited to improve the functions of the tribunal and ensure fairness.

The court is currently investigating five people for crimes committed during the Khmer Rouge's 1975-1979 rule over Cambodia, during which up to two million people died. So far, two suspects have been detained: former prison chief Kaing Kek Eav, alias Duch, and Khmer Rouge ideologue Noun Chea. Cases against the other three are being prepared.

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