05/05/2006, 00.00
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Judges for trial of Khmer Rouge leaders selected

Some 30 Cambodian and foreign officials are chosen to serve on UN-backed tribunal. It is a crucial step towards trying former leaders of Pol Pot's regime on genocide charges.

Phnom Penh (AsiaNews/Agencies) – Cambodia's highest judicial body yesterday formally approved 30 Cambodian and United Nations judges to preside over the long-awaited genocide trial of surviving Khmer Rouge leaders. Even though not all doubts about the trial have been removed, justice is a step closer to being fulfilled.

Justice Minister Ang Vong Vathana said yesterday that the Supreme Council of Magistracy endorsed 13 UN and 17 Cambodian nominees during a meeting chaired by King Norodom Sihamoni.

Reach Sambath, a tribunal spokesman, said that preliminary legal procedures would start in June but that the actual trial was not expected to begin until early next year.

"I hope that the trial process will be convened in the near future," the justice minister said.

After five years of negotiations Cambodia and the UN agreed in June 2003 to set up a tribunal to judge the crimes perpetrated by Pol Pot's regime. However, the go-ahead was postponed several times out of fear that the trial might negatively impact on the nation. Some leaders of the current Hun Sen government are themselves former Khmer Rouges.

About two million people died in the late 1970s during Pol Pot's four-year bloody regime.

In 1979 the Khmer Rouges regime collapsed after Vietnam intervened militarily, but so far none of its leaders has ever been tried.

Pol Pot died in 1998 and many of his acolytes still live freely in Cambodia. Only two former regime leaders, militia head Ta Mok and Kang Keng Leu, more commonly known as Duch, are in jail waiting trial.

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