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Thursday, March 18, 1999 Published at 07:45 GMT

World: Asia-Pacific

Row over Khmer Rouge trial

Cambodia says it has the legal means to prosecute Khmer Rouge

By Caroline Gluck in Phnom Penh

The UN Secretary-General, Kofi Annan, has thrown his weight behind recommendations to establish an international tribunal for former members of Cambodia's Khmer Rouge for crimes against humanity and crimes of genocide.

Caroline Gluck: Cambodia still lacks the respect for an impartial, judicial system
Mr Annan has sent letters to the UN General Assembly and the Security Council saying that leaders of the Khmer Rouge - under whose regime an estimated 1.7 million people died - were responsible for serious crimes and should stand trial before a tribunal which meets the international standards of justice.

Last week the Cambodian Government said that any trial of Khmer Rouge leaders would take place in Cambodia and not overseas.

Killing fields

The Secretary-General gave his backing to a report written by a team of legal experts which recommends that between 20 to 30 Khmer Rouge leaders should stand before an international tribunal for their role in Cambodia's killing fields.

The report says that a trial should be conducted in another country in the Asia-Pacific region because Cambodia's courts are not up to the job.

[ image: The West is divided over whether to prosecute Khmer Rouge's former nominal leader Khieu Samphan]
The West is divided over whether to prosecute Khmer Rouge's former nominal leader Khieu Samphan
The legal experts say that there are not enough properly qualified judges, lawyers and investigators in Cambodia as most were killed during the Khmer Rouge period.

More troubling is the fact that Cambodia still lacks a culture of respect for an impartial criminal justice system - a view echoed by many human rights groups, who say the judicial system is riddled with corruption and is subject to political pressures.

Even the head of the Bar Association of Cambodia has urged any trial to take place overseas, saying that courts in Cambodia are not independent or impartial.

Last week, however, Cambodia appeared to rule out moves to hold a trial overseas, despite asking for international help two years ago, saying that any trial would take place in Cambodia, preferably with international assistance.

Without Cambodia's co-operation, it will be almost impossible for the UN to establish any international court.

There is likely to be further opposition within the Security Council itself, with China, once the main backer of the Khmer Rouge, threatening to veto the plan.

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