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Cambodia Ready to Set-Up Genocide Court - 2002-07-02

Cambodia's prime minister is offering to compromise with the United Nations in order to set-up a joint genocide tribunal to try former Khmer Rouge leaders. This is the first sign of hope for justice since the United Nations pulled out of the planned tribunal in February due to legal differences.

Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen told reporters Tuesday that progress is being made to revive negotiations with the United Nations to try former Khmer Rouge leaders.

The prime minister - for the first time - said he would be willing to amend Cambodian laws, if necessary, in order to satisfy U.N. demands and establish the genocide court.

The United Nations withdrew from participating in the genocide tribunal back in February after five years of planning. U.N. officials said judicial independence, impartiality and objectivity could not be guaranteed unless Cambodia changed flawed legislation to establish the court.

U.N. experts said the current laws would give too much jurisdiction to Cambodian judges and courts at a time when the country's judicial system was immature and prone to corruption. There was also concern that the government, which is staffed by some former Khmer Rouge members, including Hun Sen himself, could exert undue influence.

Until today, the prime minister had refused to make changes and threatened to hold the trials without U.N. assistance.

It is not clear what prompted Hun Sen to change his mind, but he came under intense pressure to find a compromise last month at an international donors' conference on aid to Cambodia.

Former military commander Ta Mok and Duch, the former director of the Tuol Sleng torture center, are the only two Khmer Rouge cadre in jail awaiting trial. The Khmer Rouge, a radical communist movement that ruled Cambodia from 1975 to 1979, is believed responsible for the deaths of nearly two million people.