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Scrutiny recently has focused on the two investigating judges who, under the French-style rules, are primarily responsible for pretrial investigations. Separate seven-judge panels try the cases.

Many had hoped that investigating Judge Siegfried Blunk of Germany would pursue the new cases despite objections of his Cambodian counterpart.

Instead, the judges’ office has made a series of controversial rulings that many observers say are without legal basis and appear intended to pre-empt at least one of the cases.

British co-prosecutor Andrew Cayley has fought the rulings and released new details about the investigation, prompting a harsh rebuke from the judges, which Mr. Cayley slammed as “abusive,” “unreasonable,” “capricious” and “unprecedented.”

Tensions among some court employees and U.N. legal advisers reached a boiling point last month, when several employees sent an angry letter to Mr. Ban complaining about Judge Blunk, according to two officials who have seen the letter but asked to remain anonymous in order to discuss the court’s internal matters. Judge Blunk also sent a letter to Mr. Ban, though its contents are unclear.

At least five employees have resigned in protest of Judge Blunk’s actions, including Mr. Heder, a consultant who compiled extensive evidence about new suspects.

Judge Blunk was also the focus of Cambodian rights activist Ou Virak, who complained that his conduct was “a matter of utmost concern” and suggested that the U.N. had acquiesced to Cambodia’s government.

Judge Blunk declined to answer questions from the AP, but issued a statement through a court spokesman: “The co-investigating judges have worked independently from outside interference and are resolved to defend their independence against all interference wherever it may come from.”

The feud, and concerns about public perception, prompted officials from the court’s main donors, which include the United States, Australia and others, to intervene directly with Judge Blunk and Mr. Cayley multiple times - by phone and in person.

“I believe in the good faith in each of the good people that I’m talking with. They have very good reason for doing what they’re doing,” the current U.S. war crimes ambassador, Stephen Rapp, said in an interview with the AP. “Reasonable people can disagree, but people need to see that this is an issue that this is being decided on the law, not on the basis of political pressure.”

Mr. Ban’s chief spokesman, Martin Nesirky, in a statement released Tuesday denied speculation that it was pushing judges to close cases 003 and 004.

“The judges and prosecutors must be allowed to function free from external interference by the Royal Government of Cambodia, the United Nations, donor states, and civil society,” he said. “It follows that the United Nations categorically rejects media speculation that we have instructed the [judges] to dismiss Case 003.”

Clair Duffy, who monitors the tribunal for the Open Society Justice Initiative, said the damage the court has suffered could be mitigated by how the upcoming trial - which includes the man who was second only to the infamous Pol Pot - plays out, “and in particular whether it was able to withstand political pressure from the Cambodian government.”

But the final judgment will rest with Cambodians and whether they embrace the court’s decisions as model justice or political charade.