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Trials threatened by funding crisis


March 15, 2008

Trials threatened by funding crisis

Cambodia's top administrator to the Khmer Rouge tribunal has announced that the United Nations-backed genocide court, established to prosecute leaders of the regime that was toppled nearly 30 years ago, was running out of funds.

In his meeting with more than 200 staff working on the tribunal, Sean Visoth said they would not be paid after April. The court's top officials however hold out hope that the international community or the Cambodian government will come up with the millions needed to keep the tribunal running.

The UN-supported half of the tribunal is funded for several months more, but would also need a significant influx of cash after that. Originally budgeted at $56.3 million over three years, the tribunal's operating costs have ballooned as the enormity of the job of prosecuting those behind Cambodia's darkest chapter becomes more apparent, reported AFP.

Up to two million people died of starvation and overwork, or were executed as the communist Khmer Rouge dismantled modern Cambodian society in a bid to forge an agrarian utopia during their 1975-79 rule.

After nearly a decade of wrangling, the UN and Cambodia opened the tribunal in 2006. The regime's top five surviving leaders were arrested last year in what many saw as a sign of the sluggish court's gathering momentum.

But those close to the proceedings say staff are overwhelmed, in part by paperwork, particularly the task of translating tens of thousands of documents into either Cambodian, French or English, the three languages used by the court.

"The original assumptions about the resources needed and the tasks to be accomplished were inaccurate as is often the case in these tribunals," said co-prosecutor Robert Petit, who like other court officials has been critical of the tribunal's funding structure and projected timeframe.

"The original budget was inadequate and contained many gaps in essential areas," said the UN's tribunal spokesman Peter Foster.

The UN and Cambodian government have requested an additional $114 million dollars that would allow the court to add hundreds of new staff and remain in operation until 2011.

But so far none of the tribunal's principle donors -- Japan, France, Britain, Germany and Australia - has stepped forward to commit more money. Another obstacle in the oft-stalled proceedings would be a further blow to the tribunal's credibility at a time when support is crucial.

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