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UN Human Rights Chief Blasts Cambodian Judiciary

The United Nations human rights chief has added more ammunition to a war of words between the U.N. and Cambodia, issuing a strong indictment of the country's judiciary.

Louise Arbour, the U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights, calls shortcomings in Cambodia's judicial system the "single most important area" in which the country needs to make progress.

In comments wrapping up this week's visit to Phnom Penh, Arbour said Friday that the Cambodian judicial system suffers from corruption, inadequate training, and lack of independence and professional integrity.

Despite such comments, her talks in Phnom Penh were aimed at repairing strained relations between the U.N. and the Cambodian government.

Those relations have been tense since March, when Yash Ghai, the U.N. secretary-general's special envoy for human rights in Cambodia, blasted the government of Prime Minister Hun Sen for its "iron-fisted" leadership and suppression of dissent.

Mr. Hun Sen responded by calling Ghai "deranged" and calling for his dismissal. But during Arbour's visit, he promised not to close the U.N. human rights office in Cambodia.

Ou Virak, spokesman for the Cambodian Center for Human Rights in Phnom Penh, said this promise showed the value of Arbour's visit.

"With the visit, it shows that the U.N. Human Rights Commission is paying close attention to the developments in this country, and it is also very important because recently, the prime minister threatened to close the U.N. office in Cambodia, and now we heard that the government is going to allow the U.N. office to be open," said Ou Virak.

Concerns about Cambodia's judiciary have come to the fore as the trial finally approaches of the leaders of the brutal Khmer Rouge regime.

An estimated 1.7 million Cambodians died during the Khmer Rouge's four years in power in the 1970s. Seventeen Cambodian judges and prosecutors have been appointed to join 13 international jurists in the U.N.-sponsored tribunal that will try the regime's surviving leaders.