- The Washington Times - Sunday, October 10, 2004

Field trip?

The Security Council may be taking something of a field trip next month — to Kenya.

In an effort to put some muscle into the sputtering peace talks between the Sudanese government and the dominant rebel group, the United States may lead council diplomats on a highly unusual site visit.

John C. Danforth, U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, confirmed last week that Washington is considering a visit during November, when the United States will hold the rotating presidency of the council.

“The jump-starting of [the talks] is very, very important, so we have at least raised the possibility of council consideration,” he said.

“But the Security Council might do something that’s extraordinary — not unique, but extraordinary — and that is to convene the Security Council at the site of the peace negotiations in Kenya.”

Washington has taken the lead in the council on trying to end the bloodshed in Sudan’s Darfur region, which Secretary of State Colin L. Powell has described as genocide.

Other countries have been slower to use the word, but U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan named a panel of human-rights and legal experts last week to travel to Darfur and assess the situation.

U.N. officials declined to say whether the group would return with a clear verdict.

Cambodia trial deal

More than 25 years after one-quarter of the Cambodian population died on the “killing fields” of murder, overwork and starvation, a handful of surviving Khmer Rouge leaders finally could stand trial on charges of genocide and crimes against humanity.

Last week the Cambodian government, which includes former officials of the Khmer Rouge, signed an agreement with the United Nations that finally could allow the trials of the increasingly frail former leaders, now in their 60s and 70s.

After years of negotiations, Phnom Penh struck down amnesties that could have prevented as many as 10 Khmer Rouge officials from standing trial.

The Cambodian senate also has agreed to make almost two dozen changes to domestic laws and to ratify the agreement worked out early last week with U.N. officials.

The reforms come after more than a decade of halting negotiations with U.N. legal experts, who have tried vainly to win concessions that would allow the proposed tribunal to meet international standards.

Some have suggested that the foot-dragging was intentional. In recent years, “Brother Number 1,” Pol Pot, died in his sleep. Other well-known compatriots are living openly, if quietly, in Cambodia’s jungles and villages. All are well connected to the current government.

“We have fulfilled this supreme task to seek justice for the victims and contribute to the cause of the entire humanity, which is to prevent the return of genocide,” Deputy Prime Minister Sok An told in the capital after the 96-2 vote. “I cannot see any more obstacles left.”

Actually, there are a few: Only two of the 10 most likely to be tried are in custody, and it’s not clear how difficult it will be to apprehend the rest. And then there’s the problem of money.

Given the complexities of building the cases and mounting defenses, it is expected that the trials of a dozen former Khmer Rouge will take at least three years and cost about $50 million. Because the details of the trial took so long to negotiate, no fund raising is yet under way.

Governments and foundations will have to volunteer the money and, if the difficulties in funding a similar tribunal in Sierra Leone are any indication, the job won’t be easy.

Cambodian Foreign Minister Hor Namhong, in New York for the General Assembly debate two weeks ago, challenged Secretary-General Kofi Annan to convene a pledging conference soon or risk creating a tribunal “without people to be tried.”

“I mean, all the old Khmer Rouge leaders could die, so I want Kofi Annan to pay attention to these issues,” Hor Namhong told Reuters news agency.

Betsy Pisik may be reached via e-mail at UNear@aol.com.

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