Thursday, May 11, 2006

Khmer Rouge prosecutors to start work in a few months

PHNOM PENH, May 10 (Reuters) - Prosecutors will start work in a few months on indictments for the long-awaited trial of Pol Pot's top surviving henchmen for the 1970s Khmer Rouge genocide, court officials said on Wednesday.

Those "most responsible" for the estimated 1.7 million who were executed or died of starvation, overwork or disease under the ultra-Maoist regime from 1975 to 1979, would be brought to justice, said court director Sean Visoth.

"Cambodia has an obligation and has every means to make sure that once a warrant is issued they can bring the suspects before the court," he told a news conference in the Cambodian capital.

Almost every Cambodian family lost relatives under the Khmer Rouge, but no leader of the "Killing Fields" has faced justice for the atrocities.

Pol Pot himself died in a jungle guerrilla camp in 1998.

Last week Cambodia appointed 30 judges and prosecutors, including 17 Cambodians and 13 foreigners, to a tribunal that can be deemed under way once co-prosecutors open their preliminary investigations. Michelle Lee, the U.N. appointed deputy court director, said the co-prosecutors must first select their support staff.

"I can assure you our intention and our wish is to bring them on board as soon as possible, by either the end of June or the beginning of July," she said.

U.N. and Cambodian officials said in February the tribunal, which has a three-year budget of $56.3 million, would be operating in earnest by 2007.

The trial will be conducted under a modified form of Cambodia's French-based judicial system, with domestic and international judges and prosecutors working jointly to try to guarantee the courts' independence.

Due to Cambodia's erratic and highly politicised judiciary, a complex formula of majority voting is in place to ensure no decision can be taken without support from both sides.

Only two top cadres -- Ta Mok, the octogenarian one-legged military chief dubbed 'The Butcher', and Duch, the born-again Christian who ran Phnom Penh's Tuol Sleng interrogation centre -- are in jail and have been accused by a military court of war crimes, genocide and crimes against humanity.

<>Pol Pot's deputy, "Brother Number Two" Nuon Chea, former head of state Khieu Samphan and former Foreign Minister Ieng Sary are living as free men in Cambodia.
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