|Cambodian girl looks at the skulls of Khmer Rouge victims on display at the Killing Fields memorial sight in Choeung Ek|
Cambodian Foreign Minister Hor Namhong told reporters Tuesday that thanks to Japan, Cambodia's nearly $12 million shortfall in money to fund the long-hoped-for Khmer Rouge tribunal was no longer a problem.
He explained that Cambodia had agreed to a proposal to use Japanese government funds already allocated to a bilateral aid program, to cover Cambodia's share of the $56 million budgeted for the tribunal.
But Hor Namhong's announcement came as a surprise to the Japanese embassy in Phnom Penh.
The embassy's political affairs officer, Fumio Goto, said Japan's bilateral aid program would not cover all of Cambodia's costs, and he asked other countries to contribute as well.
"Because this is not only Japan who assist the Khmer Rouge tribunal," he said. "So we understand that now the Cambodian government are prepared, just appeal to all donor countries to assist the Cambodian portion."
Japan is already the tribunal's biggest donor, with a pledge of more than $21 million. Although Cambodia's foreign minister said no further negotiations were necessary, Mr. Goto said the two countries still needed to discuss the conditions of the aid.
Cambodians have been waiting more than 25 years for the trial of what is now a handful of aging former Khmer Rouge leaders, the last remaining figureheads of the ultra-Maoist regime that killed nearly two million people between 1975 and 1979.
Youk Chhang, Cambodia's foremost genocide researcher, is leading the preparation of evidence for the tribunal. He said a formal announcement from the Cambodian and Japanese governments about the budget would come as a great relief to the victims of the Khmer Rouge and their families.
His team at the Documentation Center of Cambodia in Phnom Penh has been preparing for the legal proceedings for years.
"You know we were ready for a long time ago," he said. "In terms of preparation to supply the material, information, sources, any requests made by the tribunal. So we are ready to respond at any time."
Cambodia originally agreed to pay about $13 million of the $56 million needed for the trial, with the United Nations providing the rest. But Phnom Penh now says it cannot afford to pay more than $1.5 million. Lining up the cash has been the last obstacle to establishing the court.