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Khmer Rouge war crimes court threatened by pay dispute


Former Khmer Rouge prison chief Kaing Guek Eav is the only person so far convicted by the Extraordinary Chambers in the Courts of Cambodia. Photograph: Ho/AFP/Getty ImagesKhmer Rouge war crimes court threatened by pay dispute

Strike by Cambodian staff paralyses court already hit by resignations and accusations of political interference

Reuters in Phnmom Penh

Cambodian staff at a Khmer Rouge war crimes tribunal have gone on strike as a funding crisis deepened at a court already bogged down by resignations, political interference and the frail health of its elderly defendants.

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Two hundred and fifty Cambodians have not been paid since June at the UN-backed court, caught up in a standoff between donors and a government criticised for its lack of support for hearings into one of the darkest chapters of the 20th century.

The national component of the Extraordinary Chambers in the Courts of Cambodia (ECCC) had a shortfall of $3m (£1.9m) in its annual budget, court spokesman Neth Pheaktra said, confirming that about 100 people have gone on strike and will not return until they have been paid.

Up to 2.2 million people – about a quarter of the population – died under the brutal Maoist Khmer Rouge regime from 1975 to 1979, many as a result of hard labour, torture or execution.

Under the agreement for the tribunal, the United Nations was to pay for international staff and operations, while Cambodia paid for the national side. But the government has been repeatedly criticised for its lack of support.

"We are very concerned about the possible risk of disruption to the judicial process through the strike by national staff," said UN spokesman Lars Olsen.

The funding dispute puts the spotlight on the commitment of the government, which has been accused of interfering behind the scenes to undermine the court and limit the scope of investigations that could implicate powerful political figures.

The court, dogged from the outset by allegations of corruption, political interference and profligacy, had spent $175.3m (£112m) by the end of last year. It has only convicted one prisoner, former prison chief Kaing Guek Eav, alias "Duch", who was jailed for life for the deaths of more than 14,000 people.

The government said on Monday it had already contributed $16.9m to the court.

"If the ECCC is going to fail just because of a budget shortfall, the failure of the court is the failure of the United Nations, the failure of the Cambodian government and the failure of the international community as the whole," government spokesman Ek Tha said. "We hope the international community will not stand and watch."

Source: The Guardian UK



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