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UN: Trial for Cambodia's Khmer Rouge to Begin Next Year


United Nations and Cambodian officials who are coordinating the genocide trial of surviving leaders of the Khmer Rouge have opened their offices in Phnom Penh. The officials say they hope the long-awaited trial will begin next year.

The United Nations tribunal coordinator, Michelle Lee, says that Cambodian and United Nations officials plan to select judges and lawyers for the trial within six months. That would allow the trial to start next year.

"In the legal and judicial area, the final stages appointing both the international and Cambodian judges, co-prosecutors, and co-investigating judges are well underway. And we are expecting to announce it quite soon," she said.

Lee told reporters Thursday that the date of the trial would depend on how quickly the prosecutors and judges are able to prepare cases.

Lee and her Cambodian counterpart, Sean Visoth, began moving this week into offices on a military base outside Phnom Penh.

The United Nations and Cambodia agreed three years ago to establish a special joint court to try senior leaders of the Khmer Rouge.

The plan was delayed for years by disagreements over whether the trial would use Cambodian law or international law. A lack of funding delayed progress for several more years.

The delays caused many human rights groups to say they feared that the Khmer Rouge's aging leaders would die before they could be brought to justice. Many are still alive and living freely in the country.

The Khmer Rouge, under the leadership of Pol Pot, are accused of causing the deaths of nearly two million people during a four-year period in the 1970s.

Civic groups say the deaths due to starvation, overwork, torture and executions left virtually no family untouched in the country. As a result, they say, many Cambodians are still traumatized because of it.

They say a tribunal and fact-finding commission would help bring peace and reconciliation. But the Cambodian government made little effort to establish a commission, saying it would only re-awaken old wounds.

Critics say this reluctance in part is because many current Cambodian leaders were once leaders, though minor ones, in the Khmer Rouge.