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Cambodian Genocide Tribunal to Begin Work in Months - 2003-05-14

The Cambodian government says it will be months before a genocide tribunal approved by the United Nations hears its first case. The tribunal will attempt to bring justice to leaders of the Khmer Rouge regime.

Cambodian Foreign Minister Hor Namhong said that the U.N. General Assembly approval of the tribunal is a major step toward bringing Khmer Rouge leaders to trial.

The General Assembly approved the plan Tuesday. Now, Cambodia's Parliament needs to vote on the proposal, but it is not expected to do so before national elections are held in July.

The Khmer Rouge leaders are blamed for more than one million deaths by torture, starvation, and execution during their rule in the late 1970's. Although the top Khmer Rouge commander, Pol Pot, died five years ago, many senior cadres live in comfortable retirement.

Foreign Minister Namhong said the government wants the trials to be held as soon as possible because the aging Khmer Rouge leaders might not live much longer. But the trials could be delayed until the new government takes office after the elections, which could be as last as October.

The deal between the United Nations and the Cambodian government calls for local and international judges to work side by side. Human rights groups such as Amnesty International say that will give Cambodia's weak judicial system too much say in dispensing justice.

Human rights groups are worried the corruption and political influence in the court system will mean the trials will not meet international standards. They say that would set a disastrous precedent for future war-crimes tribunals in other countries.

It is not clear who will pay for the tribunal, which is estimated to cost $19 million. Foreign Minister Namhong said funding would likely not be a problem, with the money expected to come from U.N. members.