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UN Envoy: Cambodians Want Justice To Be Done - 2002-04-23

A United Nations human rights official is urging a resumption of negotiations with Cambodia on establishment of a genocide tribunal for former Khmer Rouge leaders. The U.N. Secretary-General's special human rights envoy for Cambodia is in Geneva to submit a report to the U.N. Human Rights Commission.

Special envoy Peter Leuprecht said he regrets the break-off of negotiations in February, on the make-up of a genocide tribunal for former Khmer Rouge leaders. Mr. Leuprecht has said Cambodia is making progress toward democracy, but he adds despite some positive changes, widespread human rights violations persist throughout the country. He said Cambodia remains a wounded and traumatized society and it would be healthy for the nation to come to terms with its past.

"I have discussed this issue a lot with Cambodians, many Cambodians from different backgrounds, from different generations. And they all tell me two things. They want to know the truth. What happened during that terrible period. How could it happen? How was it possible? But they also want justice to be done," Mr. Leuprecht said.

The United Nations pulled out of nearly five years of talks with the Cambodian government, saying Cambodia's proposals on the makeup of a genocide tribunal would not guarantee independence and impartiality. Cambodia's prime minister, Hun Sen, insists the plan is adequate, accuses the U.N. of trying to dominate the tribunal and says his government is prepared to try the Khmer Rouge without international assistance.

The Khmer Rouge is accused of responsibility for the deaths of at least 1.7 million people from 1975 to 1979. Only two Khmer Rouge members - former military commander Ta Mok and Kang Kekleu, the director of a notorious 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 and many Cambodians say they are concerned the former Khmer Rouge members will die before the trial begins. Mr. Leuprecht has said further delays in forming a tribunal would be regretable.

"I think for many people in Cambodian society, it is quite shocking to see that the perpetrators live together with the victims and that no justice has been done," he said.

U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Anan has said it is up to the Cambodian government to take the initiative in resuming negotiations on the make-up the the tribunal.