U.N. resumes talks with Cambodian negotiators on Khmer Rouge tribunal

Published: Tuesday, January 7, 2003 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Monday, January 6, 2003 at 11:33 p.m.

UNITED NATIONS (AP) - For the first time in nearly a year, Cambodian and U.N. officials met Monday in a bid to restart talks on creating a tribunal for former Khmer Rouge leaders accused of genocide and crimes against humanity.

"We came very far. It's enough to demonstrate our good will," Sok An, a close confidante of Prime Minister Hun Sen, told reporters during a brief break in the talks. "We have ... optimism."

Secretary-General Kofi Annan invited the Cambodian negotiators to the United Nations to prepare for detailed talks in Phnom Penh at a later date. Annan must report to the U.N. General Assembly on the progress of the talks by March 18, according to a resolution passed last month.

The three-hour meeting at U.N. headquarters was the first face-to-face encounter between Cambodian and U.N. negotiators since the world body decided to abandon the process nearly a year ago, citing a lack of commitment on Cambodia's part to ensuring a high standard in the tribunal.

Sok An, who previously served as the Cambodian government's chief negotiator with the United Nations, and legal counsel Hans Corell, who is representing the United Nations, gave few details on Monday, but said they talks included legal issues and preparation for a possible agreement. The discussions were to continue Tuesday.

In Cambodia, Hun Sen welcomed the resumption of talks and said that trials must be held to clear away the tragic legacy of the Khmer Rouge.

Because of "indescribable sufferings" and the deaths of "millions of our people," the radical communist regime cannot be forgiven, the prime minister said. "Trials for the genocidal regime must be held. They are unavoidable."

The United Nations suspended the five-year-old tribunal talks with Cambodia in February, citing a lack of commitment by the Cambodian government to ensure that trials would be fair. It has objected to Cambodian insistence that domestic laws take precedence in any future court.

Human rights groups say Cambodia's judiciary is weak and susceptible to political pressure.

The Khmer Rouge is blamed for some 1.7 million deaths of Cambodians from overwork, disease, starvation and execution during its 1975-79 rule. Although the movement is defunct now, many of its leaders still live in Cambodia and move freely in and out of the country.

Former Khmer Rouge army chief Ta Mok and chief interrogator Kaing Khek Iev are the only two senior Khmer Rouge officials in detention awaiting trial for genocide and crimes against humanity.

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