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UN Secretary-General Says Khmer Rouge Tribunal Plays Vital Role

U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon (center) is escorted around the former security prison known as S-21 with a guide (right). The commandant of S-21, Comrade Duch, was convicted by the war crimes tribunal in Phnom Penh earlier this year.

The U.N. Secretary-General says the Khmer Rouge tribunal plays a vital role in Cambodia's search for justice for victims of the 1970s government. But Ban Ki-moon is encountering resistance to the tribunal from Cambodia's current government.
During a tour of the Tuol Sleng Genocide Museum in Phnom Penh, Ban endorsed efforts to bring the Khmer Rouge leaders to justice.

"The conviction of Kaing Guek Eav, known as Duch, was a milestone in Cambodia's journey for justice," the U.N. secretary-general said. "We know it is difficult to relive this terrible chapter in your history, but I want you to know that your courage has sent a strong and powerful message to the world that there can be no impunity, that crimes against humanity shall not go unpunished."

Tuol Sleng was a prison known as S-21 under the Khmer Rouge government in the 1970s. The international tribunal for war crimes and crimes against humanity sentenced its commander, known as Duch, in July.

Next year the U.N.-Cambodian tribunal will start its second case - against four former leaders of the Khmer Rouge, which is blamed for as many as 2 million deaths during its rule.

But the message from Cambodia's Prime Minister Hun Sen - delivered bluntly to Ban on Wednesday - was that the second case would be the tribunal's last.

It is not entirely clear if the Cambodian government can prevent new cases, as the tribunal is supposed to be free from political interference. It is investigating five more suspects.

Ban sidestepped questions on whether there will more trials.

"I had a good discussion on this matter twice with the Prime Minister Hun Sen, and also [the] deputy prime minister this morning, and I can tell you that the government of Cambodia is committed to completion of the process," he said. "The United Nations will discuss this matter with the international community members, particularly donors. That is what I can tell you at this stage."

The U.N. secretary-general closed his speech at Tuol Sleng Genocide Museum by praising Cambodian efforts to find justice.

"I will never forget my visit here today. In this place of horror, ladies and gentlemen, let the human spirit triumph. Wars cannot do justice, but we can. Thank you people of Cambodia for leading the way," Ban said.

Later Thursday, Ban flew to Vietnam, where he will meet with the leaders of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations. After that, he travels to China.