12/12/2005, 00.00
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Offices for Killing Fields trials set to open soon

They will be under way  between the end of January and the beginning of February; international and Cambodian judges will preside

Phnom Penh (AsiaNews/Agencies) - Genocide trials of Khmer Rouge leaders responsible for an estimated 1.7 million deaths moved a big step closer yesterday as Cambodia and the United Nations said they would set up offices next month to prepare them.

A shortlist of Cambodian and international judges and prosecutors to conduct the trials would be announced this month, Sean Visoth, who will head the Cambodian team, said with UN official Michelle Lee at his side.

"Mrs Lee will come back and we will have her office of administration fully operational in January," he said.

The tribunals, which will have international judges and prosecutors working alongside Cambodian colleagues, are estimated to cost US million over three years.

"We have been working very hard in this process and we are very hopeful that we will be on the ground operating by either the end of January or the beginning of February," Mrs Lee said.

"We are even more hopeful that the Cambodian people will see this as progress towards achieving the justice which is really long overdue."

An estimated one-third of the country's population died of starvation, forced labour, disease or execution during the Khmer Rouge "Killing Fields" from 1975 to 1979, when the regime was toppled by Vietnamese troops. Almost every single Cambodian family lost relatives.

But no Khmer Rouge leader has faced justice for the atrocities and critics fear many of them will die before the legal process ends.

Two Khmer Rouge leaders have been detained - Ta Mok, the one-legged Khmer Rouge military chief who is now 78, and Duch, 59, the head of the Tuol Sleng interrogation centre from which few prisoners emerged alive. Duch's real name is Kang Kek Ieu.

They were charged in March with war crimes, genocide and crimes against humanity.

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