Friday, July 7, 2006; 10:35 AM
PHNOM PENH (Reuters) - Prosecutors investigating the Khmer Rouge genocide of the 1970s said on Friday it will take months to assemble cases against those responsible for the deaths of 1.7 million people.
"The investigation phase of any trial is a long process," Canadian prosecutor Robert Petit told reporters in Phnom Penh after a week-long meeting of foreign and Cambodian jurists assigned to the long-awaited tribunal.
"We will begin our work with a blank slate and build our cases based on the information we discover over the next weeks and months," said Petit, one of 17 Cambodian and 10 foreign judges and prosecutors.
Almost every Cambodian family lost relatives under the 1975-79 Khmer Rouge regime and none of its top leaders, some of whom are alive and living quietly in Cambodia, has faced trial.
After they were sworn in by Buddhist priests on Monday, the jurists spent the rest of the week discussing legal procedures for the trials expected to begin in early 2007 with a 3-year budget of $56.3 million.
They said the tribunal would meet international judicial standards and they rejected concerns about the impartiality of some Cambodian judges.
A lawyer defending one of Pol Pot's surviving henchman said on Wednesday his client could not get a fair trial because nearly all Cambodian judges had lost relatives in the genocide.
Principal Defender Rupert Skilbeck said the accused had a fundamental right to effective legal representation and the presumption of innocence.
"Perhaps in these trials more than ever before, the whole world presumes that the defendants are guilty," he said.
It is not clear how many of Pol Pot's cadres will stand trial more than three decades after the Khmer Rouge emptied Phnom Penh and other cities on taking power after a civil war. Whole sections of society, including Buddhist monks, ethnic minorities and the middle class, were branded hostile to the regime's dream of an agrarian, peasant utopia and put to death in the "Killing Fields" or died of starvation, forced labor or disease.
Pol Pot, "Brother Number One," died in 1998 in his jungle hideout nearly a decade after a Vietnamese invasion ousted the regime.
"Brother Number Two" Nuon Chea, former head of state Khieu Samphan and former Foreign Minister Ieng Sary are living in the northwest near the Thai border.
Only two top cadres are in custody accused of war crimes, genocide and crimes against humanity.
One of them, Duch, 64, ran the notorious Tuol Sleng interrogation center in Phnom Penh where few prisoners survived.
The other detained cadre is 82-year-old Ta Mok, the one-legged Khmer Rouge military chief who has said he wanted a swift trial.