- The Washington Times - Saturday, February 9, 2002

NEW YORK The United Nations has thrown up its hands and, after more than four years of negotiations, walked away from the creation of a special court to try the perpetrators of Cambodia's "Killing Fields" massacres.

U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan has asked the U.N. legal department to discontinue its efforts to create a special court, saying a foreign prosecutor and judges could not be bound by Cambodian national law.

"The U.N. concluded that as currently envisaged, the Cambodian court would not guarantee independence, impartiality and objectivity, which is required by the U.N. for it to cooperate with such a court," U.N. spokesman Fred Eckhard said.

The organization has been working with Phnom Penh since June 1997 to create a special international tribunal that would hear charges of war crimes and crimes against humanity perpetrated during the 1975-79 Khmer Rouge rule. Executions, overwork, starvation and displacement claimed an estimated 1.7 million lives during the communist revolution and sent countless others over the borders into Thailand and Vietnam.

After years of fruitless discussions with the United Nations, the Cambodian parliament in August passed a law setting up a special national court to prosecute the Khmer Rouge, despite U.N. pleas to wait until a bilateral agreement could be signed.

"It has been the United Nations' consistent position that the organization cannot be bound by a national law," said Hans Corell, the undersecretary-general of the Office of Legal Affairs and a chief negotiator for the Phnom Penh court.

The Cambodian mission to the United Nations was aware of the letter but declined to comment yesterday.

The Cambodian government has long blamed the United Nations for creating unreasonable delays in setting up the court.

"If the U.N. keeps raising this or that problem, this matter will never end," Foreign Minister Hor Nam Hong told Reuters on Jan. 24.

"We want the U.N. to help us try the Khmer Rouge very soon," he said, warning that the former leaders "are so old, they could die before a trial."

Pol Pot, the Khmer Rouge leader known as "Brother No. 1," died in his sleep in 1998 in his hut on the northern border with Thailand, and other high-ranking Khmer Rouge officials have died in similar circumstances.

But despite the pressures of time, the government, which is headed by a former Khmer Rouge member Hun Sen, has remained reluctant to give up control.

"Given the Cambodian government's position in this matter, it is not likely that the parties would resolve it through further negotiations," Mr. Corell said.

"The United Nations has made great efforts to accommodate the concerns of the government, while at the same time protecting the integrity of the chambers and the prosecution."

In June 1997, the organization received a request from Hun Sen and Prince Ranariddh, then co-prime ministers, seeking assistance of the United Nations in bringing to justice persons responsible for the genocide and crimes against humanity during the Khmer Rouge regime.

Mr. Annan appointed an independent group of judicial experts to propose a court that could operate under Cambodian law but still meet international standards of impartiality.

Over the years, U.N. experts visited the Cambodian capital, Phnom Penh, three times to work out the details. By July 2000, U.N. officials thought they were close to reaching an agreement. But Mr. Corell yesterday noted the "lack of urgency" in the year and a half since.

The failure to create a court for Cambodia stands in contrast to the willingness of the government of Sierra Leone to establish a similar court for its rebel forces, the Revolutionary United Front.

However, the RUF was not able to hold on to power, while Hun Sen and other former Khmer Rouge members are firmly in place in the Cambodian capital.

In the past decade, the United Nations has set up a number of courts to administer justice on a sometimes grand scale.

The U.N. Security Council in 1994 set up tribunals for the Rwandan and Balkan genocide and ordered all nations to comply in efforts to maintain international peace and stability.

The Sierra Leone court is envisioned as a more modest undertaking and will try some two dozen RUF leaders for crimes against humanity. A separate truth and reconciliation commission also will be established to bring closure to a harrowing chapter in that African nation's history.

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