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Cambodia Approves Draft Law Creating Genocide Tribunal

Cambodia's Constitutional Council has given its seal of approval to legislation to create a genocide tribunal to try former Khmer Rouge leaders. This is one of the last crucial steps needed before long-awaited trials can begin.

The Constitutional Council Tuesday approved a draft law to establish a joint U.N.-Cambodian tribunal to prosecute former leaders of the Khmer Rouge for genocide.

This is the second time the legislation has come before the council. It rejected the first draft earlier this year because of references to the death penalty - which is illegal in Cambodia.

Lawmakers revised the law deleting capital punishment language and gave the measure near unanimous approval late last month.

The measure has to pass two more hurdles before it can be implemented. "This afternoon we will send our decision to the king, the National Assembly chairman, the Senate chairman and the prime minister," explained Bin Chhin, chairman of the Constitutional Council. "Then the decisions will be up to them."

If King Norodom Sihanouk signs the bill into law, it will then go to the United Nations for review to make sure it complies with international legal standards.

If the United Nations and Cambodia sign a memorandum of understanding, then the tribunal could begin work before the year's end.

The tribunal issue has been very contentious in Cambodia, where many of the former members of the Maoist Khmer Rouge government have been reintegrated into society and the government under an amnesty deal in 1996.

Prime Minister Hun Sen, himself a one-time Khmer Rouge member, has warned that genocide trials must be handled carefully to preserve the fragile peace after decades of war.

The Khmer Rouge ruled Cambodia from 1975 until 1979 and implemented radical policies aimed at creating a communist agrarian utopia. Almost two million people are believed to have died from starvation, disease and persecution.