Cambodia's Khmer court to be 'downsized'

2013-04-10 15:00

Phnom Penh - Cambodia said on Wednesday it would downsize its Khmer Rouge war crimes tribunal, following a shortage of funds that disrupted a major trial of former top regime leaders.

"We have a financial crisis at the court so we have to restructure its operations to make it smaller in order to reduce costs," government spokesperson Ek Tha told AFP.

He was unable to say how many of the 400 employees would be affected.

Tribunal spokesperson Lars Olsen played down the significance of the move. "The court is regularly reviewing its staffing requirements to ensure that we are cost efficient," he said.

The UN-backed tribunal has been frequently short of cash since it was set up in 2006 to pursue justice for the deaths of up to two million people under the fanatical Khmer Rouge communist regime in the late 1970s.

A two-week strike by local staff last month over unpaid wages paralysed the trial of elderly former regime leaders, adding to fears that they will not live to face verdicts.

One of the defendants, regime co-founder Ieng Sary, died last month. The court has also been dogged by claims that the Cambodian government has tried to obstruct progress in the landmark trial.

Quarter population wiped out

UN and Cambodian officials are drawing up recommendations for the court to hasten the trial of the remaining two suspects, Ek Tha said.

"The old age of the defendants and the financial issue prompted us to recommend the judges and the prosecutors to speed up the trial process. But it does not mean we want them to take short cuts," he said.

Officials would meet donor representatives to seek more funding for the court when the downsizing plan is complete, he added.

The Cambodian side of the hybrid tribunal - whose top donors include Japan, the European Union and Australia - urgently needs around $7m to cover costs for this year.

A fresh strike was averted in late March after Cambodia reached an agreement to borrow money to pay wages from the budget for international staff.

Led by "Brother Number One" Pol Pot, who died in 1998, the regime wiped out nearly a quarter of Cambodia's population through starvation, overwork or execution in a bid to create an agrarian utopia during their 1975-79 rule.

The two remaining defendants, "Brother Number Two" Nuon Chea, aged 86, and former head of state Khieu Samphan, aged 81, have denied charges of war crimes, genocide and crimes against humanity.