- The Washington Times - Tuesday, February 12, 2002

NEW YORK The government of Cambodia said yesterday it would create a tribunal for former officials responsible for the Khmer Rouge's "Killing Fields" massacres, saying that foreign nations could assist where the United Nations will not.

The international organization, which has been negotiating with the Cambodians for more than four years, on Friday withdrew from the effort after failing to win guarantees of the court's independence and integrity.

"We cannot abandon this affair halfway," said Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen. "The law must be implemented. The absence of U.N. participation does not mean we cannot continue."

He said he hoped that "friendly countries" could still send judges and prosecutors to assist with the court.

So far, only two suspected Khmer Rouge leaders are in custody, and others live undisturbed in western Cambodia.

Most of the architects of the communist agrarian revolution, which claimed more than 1.7 million Cambodian lives between 1975 and 1979, are aging quickly or already dead.

Others, such as Hun Sen himself, are in power a fact that leads the United Nations to be especially concerned about the court's independence, impartiality and transparency.

The Cambodian government, which is in part a U.N. creation, has never gotten along particularly well with the organization.

U.N. officials feared that the court would not be sufficiently independent.

Several diplomats, speaking on background, said yesterday that the United Nations had made a mistake by pulling out so abruptly, and by giving less than an hour's notice to the Cambodian and other key delegations.

One envoy in New York said yesterday that the organization was more concerned with challenges to its own credibility than with bringing justice to Cambodia.

Reuters news agency has quoted Cambodian-based envoys from Japan, Britain, Australia, the United States and France as saying they wished the government and the organization could resume discussions.

"The United States is focused on getting the Cambodians and the United Nations back together," said U.S. Ambassador Kent Wiedemann in the Cambodian capital of Phnom Penn. "We believe they are truly on the brink of an agreement."

Human rights and legal groups, as well as former Cambodian co-Prime Minister Prince Norodom Ranariddh, have said U.N. involvement is vital because a purely Cambodian court would not be credible.

U.N. officials yesterday defended U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan's order to withdraw.

"That decision wasn't taken lightly and the secretary-general stands by it," spokesman Fred Eckhard said.

Hans Corell, the chief U.N. legal adviser, told The Washington Times yesterday that unless the United Nations was able to monitor the court's activities, it was uncomfortable with the association.

He rejected criticism of the withdrawal, saying that Phnom Penh had shown "a lack of urgency" by failing to endorse the U.N. agreement from July 2000.

Amnesty International yesterday supported the U.N. decision to walk away from the proposed tribunal.

"The process as envisaged by the Cambodian authorities fell short of required internationally recognized standards for fair trials, and it is for the U.N. to ensure that these standards are maintained," the human rights organization said in a statement.

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