Indian Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee has offered to send Indian judges to Cambodia to try former Khmer Rouge leaders. The Indian offer is seen by experts as a credible option to having a U.N.-sponsored tribunal.

Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee is the first Indian leader to visit Cambodia in nearly 50 years. He proposed participation of India's judges in the much-delayed trial of the Khmer Rouge leaders in case the United Nations refuses to take part.

The U.N. withdrew from negotiations earlier this year, citing Cambodia's inability to hold a trial meeting credible standards of justice.

The Cambodian government has said it might seek international assistance in holding its own trial if the United Nations refused to rejoin negotiations. Prime Minister Hun Sen blames the U.N. for the current impasse, and recently gave the U.N. a month to come back to negotiations or have Phnom Penh handle the cases its own way.

The Khmer Rouge was responsible for the deaths of some 1.7 million people by execution, starvation, overwork and disease in the late 1970s. A number of its leaders, two of whom are in prison, are to be tried for crimes against humanity.

Director of the Cambodian Institute for Cooperation and Peace, Kao Kim Hourn, finds Mr. Vajpayee's offer encouraging. "The Indian proposal would be [a] very important one. India has a pretty good judicial system and the participation of any Indian judge would certainly have a positive influence on the Khmer Rouge trial," Mr. Kao said.

But he said he still hopes the United Nations will reconsider and take part in the trial.

"If the U.N. would choose to opt out of this process, then it would be a political mistake and that would, I think, question the role of the United Nations in promoting global justice," he said. Mr. Vajpayee came to Cambodia this week on a mission to strengthen relations between the two countries. In addition to offering Cambodia judicial help, he signed several agreements to open new air routes and ease some visa restrictions. Mr. Vajapyee is the first Indian prime minister to visit Cambodia since Jawaharlal Nehru came here in 1954.