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Cambodia to Go Forward Alone With Plans for Khmer Rouge Trials - 2002-02-09

Cambodia says it will go ahead with plans to set up a genocide tribunal to try former Khmer Rouge leaders in spite of the United Nations' decision Friday to pull out of talks to set up a special court.

Cambodian leaders say that they are determined to bring former members of the once-feared Khmer Rouge to justice, without U.N. assistance. Cambodia's co-interior minister and deputy prime minister, Sar Kheng, told Reuters News Agency Saturday that U.N. decision to pullout is "their problem."

On Friday, the United Nations abruptly ended more than four years of negotiations with Cambodia to convene an international war crimes tribunal. The U.N.'s chief legal counsel, Hans Corell, says the world body had no choice but to pull out of the talks, after it concluded the court's independence, objectivity and impartiality could not be guaranteed.

Cambodian negotiators and politicians have expressed dismay at the U.N. decision. Many Cambodians fear a trial conducted by the government in Phnom Penh would not be recognized or endorsed internationally. The ruling Cambodian People's Party contains many former members of the Khmer Rouge, including Prime Minister Hun Sen.

Only two senior Khmer Rouge members are currently in detention; Kaing Kek Keu, better known as "Duch" who allegedly oversaw the group's main torture center, and Ta Mok, the former chief of staff. Former prime minister Nuon Chea, foreign minister Ieng Sary and several others have retired to an enclave on Cambodia's western border with Thailand. Khmer Rouge founder Pol Pot, known as "Brother Number One", died in 1998.

Together, they are believed to have a hand in the deaths of more than 1.5 million Cambodians, who perished by execution, disease and starvation during the Khmer Rouge's brutal reign from 1975 to 1979. The radical Maoist group was toppled by invading Vietnamese forces in early 1979.

Prime Minister Hun Sen has in the past appeared reluctant to see U.N. participation in a war-crimes court. In 1999, Hun Sen rejected U.N. recommendations to set up an international court. A year later, the Cambodian National Assembly approved a draft law for a court, without including a U.N.-Cambodian agreement.

The director of the Independent Documentation Center of Cambodia, Youk Chhang, criticized both the Cambodian government and the United Nations for failing to provide justice for the Khmer Rouge victims. He said they will never see justice done because there will little chance now that a war crimes tribunal will ever be established. "Our government has been dragging its feet all along," he said. "Unless, there is continued pressure from the international community, we doubt our government could go ahead with a tribunal."

Youk Chhang also believes both sides lost sight of what the talks were ultimately about the victims of the Khmer Rouge. "This should be about justice for those who died, not about politics," he says.