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Cambodia's Khmer Rouge Tribunal Trims Budget

Cambodia's Khmer Rouge tribunal says it will complete its work early and for almost $30 million less than previously proposed. Donors had balked at the initial budget of $170 million. To ensure new cost-cutting targets are met, a U.N. official has been drafted from the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia. Rory Byrne reports for VOA from Phnom Penh.

Cambodia's Khmer Rouge tribunal has suffered a cash crisis for months. Donors have been reluctant to kick in money because of concerns over alleged corruption and mismanagement. That led to fears that the tribunal could close its doors before the first trial takes place.

Donors also had concerns about the court's rising costs, and what they consider its slow pace of operations.

But tribunal officials say they have shaved almost $30 million off the original budget of $170 million. They say the court will aim finish its work by the end of 2010, a year ahead of schedule.

Donors meeting in New York this week expressed satisfaction with the new budget, raising hopes in Cambodia that money will be coming.

To help ensure the Khmer Rouge tribunal meets its new targets, Norwegian U.N. official Knut Rosandhaug has been brought in from the International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia.

Speaking to reporters this week, he outlined his concerns about the tribunal.

"I share the concerns about the swiftness of the process. I am fully aware of the health situation of the detainees and I will do my part, offer my support to see that this is done as swift[ly] as possible but within the standards that we want to achieve," he said.

Under the ultra-Maoist Khmer Rouge government in the late 1970s, as many as two million Cambodians were executed for any minor criticism of the government or died of hunger and illness.

Only a handful of the group's senior leaders are still alive, and most of them are elderly and frail. There are fears they will die before they ever face justice.

Rosandhaug says he is confident the tribunal will now get the money it needs to finish its work. He praised the determination of those involved in bringing the Khmer Rouge leaders to justice.

"I am coming from the Balkans in Europe, I am used to sort of a battle mode, people are fighting each other, and it is therefore a joy for me to come here and to see that it is a joint effort, one platform, we have concept to work on, one way forward, and for me that is very joyful," Rosandhaug.

The tribunal has indicted five former Khmer Rouge leaders. The trial of the first defendant, the commander of the Khmer Rouge's notorious S-21 torture center in Phnom Penh, is expected to begin in September.