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Judge Quits Khmer Rouge Tribunal

German Judge Siegfried Blunk (file)

German Judge Siegfried Blunk (file)

An investigating judge on the United Nations-backed tribunal trying Khmer Rouge leaders in Cambodia has submitted his resignation, complaining of government interference.

The tribunal issued a statement Monday saying international judge Siegfried Blunk quit Saturday because public statements by government officials had called into question the integrity of two ongoing investigations.

Blunk - a German - already faced accusations that he and fellow investigating judge You Bunleng of Cambodia had given in to pressure not to pursue any cases beyond the two already brought to trial. The judges announced in April that they had completed their investigation of a third case, even though a prosecutor complained they had not questioned key witnesses or visited suspected crime scenes.

There also are accusations that the judges have not thoroughly investigated a fourth case presented by the prosecutors. Several tribunal staff members resigned earlier this year to protest the handling of the cases, and Human Rights Watch called last week for both investigating judges to resign.

In New York, U.N. Deputy spokesman Eduardo del Buey said the world body is "working urgently" to ensure that a reserve judge is available as soon as possible to replace Blunk. Del Buey also insisted that tribunal judges must be permitted to work "without interference from any entity, including the royal government of Cambodia."

The U.N. call came hours after the tribunal said senior government officials, including Prime Minister Hun Sen, have repeatedly argued that the tribunal should not pursue any more cases. It pointed out that Blunk initiated contempt of court proceedings against Cambodia's information minister over one such remark in May.

The U.N.-backed tribunal has so far convicted one former Khmer Rouge prison warden and is trying the top four surviving Khmer Rouge leaders in a case that is expected to last for years.

The tribunal was established to investigate and try suspected war crimes perpetrated during the period of Khmer Rouge rule in the late 1970s. The extreme communist group is blamed for the deaths of as many as 2 million people through executions, starvation and overwork.

Some information for this report was provided by AP, AFP and Reuters.