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Deadline Set for Talks on Khmer Rouge Tribunal - 2002-03-20

Cambodia's Prime Minister Hun Sen set a three-month deadline for the United Nations to resume negotiations with his government on a proposed Khmer Rouge tribunal.

Prime Minister Hun Sen told reporters the U.N. was responsible for last month's breakdown of talks to set up the war crimes tribunal. He said Cambodia's patience has limits, and gave the United Nations three months to return to negotiations.

Mr. Hun Sen did not say what action he would take if the U.N. failed to resume negotiations for the trial, which aims to bring justice for an estimated 1.7 million people who died at the hands of the Khmer Rouge communist regime in the late 1970s. Under a recent legislation, Cambodia can hold the trials without U.N. involvement.

U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan last week, called on the Cambodian prime minister to "send a clear message that he is interested in a credible court." Mr. Annan spoke after meeting with ambassadors from a dozen Western countries who urged him to reconsider the U.N. withdrawal. The U.N. pulled out after five years of negotiations, saying the tribunal Cambodia had in mind would not render a credible judgment.

The Cambodian government has long threatened to hold a trial without U.N. support, despite objections by Cambodians and the international community that the trial would not be considered as impartial.

Only two Khmer Rouge members, former military commander Ta Mok and Kang Kekleu, the director of the notorious S-21 torture center, are in jail awaiting trial. Khmer Rouge leader, Pol Pot, died in 1998.

Most other surviving leaders of the regime are living in remote areas of the country. Many Cambodians say they are concerned the former Khmer Rouge members will die before the trial begins.