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Cambodian King Approves Creation of Tribunal Court - 2001-08-10

Officials in Phnom Penh say King Norodom Sihanouk has signed a royal decree ratifying the law that will create a U.N. assisted court to try former Khmer Rouge leaders. The law was sent to the King for signing earlier Friday after the Constitutional Council approved the legislation earlier this week.

The law will bring justice to the deaths of 1.7 million people in Cambodia under the Khmer Rouge government in the late 1970s. The Khmer Rouge collapsed in the 1990s after massive defections among its members. Only a few of the senior Khmer Rouge leaders are still alive. Its supreme leader, Pol Pot, died in 1998.

After King Sihanouk's approval, the government will now enter into negotiations with the United Nations over the details of the tribunal, which will include foreign and local judges. The passage of the law has been delayed for the last six months because the Constitutional Council objected to a reference to the death penalty. It says the country's 1993 Constitution had already abolished death penalty.

Human rights groups and diplomats criticized the delay as an attempt by the government of Prime Minister Hun Sen, himself a former Khmer Rouge member until his defection, to thwart efforts at prosecuting former Khmer Rouge leaders.

The United Nations had previously raised concerns over the draft law. But Mr. Hun Sen has said Cambodia will go ahead with a trial, which may open as early as this year, with or without U.N. support.