Cambodian war crimes trial begs for more cash

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Officials from the Cambodian war crimes tribunal are involved in a desperate fight to ensure the court retains its credibility and the funding it requires to bring justice to the "killing fields" crimes of a generation ago.

Three members from the UN-backed court will answer questions tomorrow from donor nations, amid allegations of corruption and political interference.

Convincing the donors of the transparency of the proceedings is vital if the tribunal is to obtain more than $100m (£50m) in extra funds to try the surviving leaders of the Khmer Rouge.

"They are going there to answer questions and make the situation clear... to tell the truth," said Reach Sambath, a spokesman for the tribunal. "They are going as delegation to say what is going on at the court." The tribunal, formally known as the Extraordinary Chambers in the Courts of Cambodia, was established with UN support to try those remaining members of the Khmer Rouge regime whose four-year rule resulted in the deaths of up to1.7 million people.

Between 1975, when the Maoist-inspired force seized power and 1979 when it was ousted by invading troops from Vietnam, almost a third of the population was either murdered or died from disease or starvation.

One of the most pressing problems facing the tribunal has been that of funding. While the tribunal was set up with an initial budget of about $56m, continued delays and problems have forced officials to ask for an additional $114m. "The original budget was just for three years until mid-2009 and we need to envisage going a bit longer than that," its chief spokesperson, Helen Jarvis, said last year.

Directly linked to the battle for funds are accusations of corruption. Last year, the New York-based Open Society Justice Initiative claimed that Cambodian judges and other staff at the court had paid off government officials for their positions at the tribunal. The claims were dismissed by the Cambodian authorities.

What does not appear in doubt, however, is that the Cambodian government has placed many obstacles in the way of the tribunal, apparently concerned about members of the Khmer Rouge who have served as cabinet ministers.

So far, five former members of the regime have been detained by the court and the first of the trials is expected to begin later this year. The five prisoners are Kaing Guek Eav, better known as Comrade Duch and the former head of interrogations at the notorious Tuol Sleng jail, former president Khieu Samphan, foreign minister Ieng Sary and his wife, Ieng Thirith, and Nuon Chea, the deputy to "Brother Number One" Pol Pot.

Most of the prisoners are elderly and frail and there is concern the process be completed as soon as possible in order to try to offer a degree of resolution to a country scarred by the horrors of its recent past.

Duch, now 66, took charge of the torture and interrogation of about 20,000 people who were sent to Tuol Sleng. All but a handful were taken to the killing fields and killed, often by being beaten with a shovel.

Ms Jarvis said the money currently allotted for the tribunal was expected to run out by the end of the year. The tribunal's revised budget proposal calls for the additional money to expand its staff and allow it operate until March 2011.