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Khmer Rouge leaders deny charges as donors push for swift trial

Four former officials of the Cambodian Khmer Rouge have denied charges of genocide and war crimes, as ailing health looks set to push back their trials.

Japan, France and the US, major supporters of the UN backed tribunal, have been pushing for the trial to go ahead as quickly and fairly as possible.

See report by Voice of America here.

The tribunal, also known as the Extraordinary Chambers in the Courts of Cambodia, was established after an agreement between the Government of Cambodia and the United Nations to try senior members of the Khmer Rouge for war crimes, crimes against humanity and genocide.

The current judges on the Supreme Court Chamber of the tribunal includes recent Sri Lankan High Commissioner to the United Kingdom Chandra Nihal Jayasinghe.

Ou Virak, of the Cambodian Centre for Human Rights, said of the tribunal:

"[This] will be a cathartic moment for all Cambodians.

While the crimes of the Khmer Rouge were committed over a quarter of a century ago, they remain ingrained in Cambodia's collective psyche.

I hope that this trial – coming as it does so many years after the crimes alleged against the accused were committed – provides all victims with some sense of justice, however delayed that justice may be."

This call was echoed by Andrew Cayley, the international co-prosecutor in the case, who said that the crimes were probably the "most serious crimes committed since the Second World War" and "the Cambodian people still expect answers."

He went on to say,

"Certainly, the relatives of those who perished and the handful of those survivors who are left are seeking justice."

The health and ability of the defendants to stand trial is due to be evaluated by the Trial Chamber later this week, as reports emerged of one of the defendants suffering from dementia and memory loss.

Masaki Kawaguchi, first secretary of the Embassy of Japan told Voice of America:

“While respecting the independence of the court, we hope that the court shares the same concern for fair, efficient, and expeditious proceedings in order to deliver justice for the Cambodian people.”

Dominique Mas, first consular of the French Embassy also said that he “obviously wants the tribunal to make decisions and conduct its hearings in a timely manner.”

US Embassy spokesman Sean McIntosh said the US continues to support the tribunal’s work “to bring justice to those former senior Khmer Rouge’s for the crimes that they committed against humanity.”

Pressure has been placed on the tribunal to halt proceedings by current Cambodian Prime Minister and former Khmer Rouge commander Hun Sen, who left the movement before its collapse. He held a champagne toast with two of the current defendants in 1998, where he said Cambodians must “dig a hole and bury the past.”

In the first case held by the tribunal last year, Comrade Duch, a senior Khmer Rouge leader who headed the notorious S-21 detention camp where up to 14,000 people were tortured and executed was found guilty of crimes against humanity, murder and torture.

Over 1.8 million people were killed in the space of four years as the Khmer Rouge set up a programme of enforced relocation and labour camps in Cambodia.

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