U.S. gives first funding to Khmer Rouge trial

PHNOM PENH Tue Sep 16, 2008 3:09am EDT

A tourist takes a picture of portraits of Khmer Rouge victims on display at the Tuol Sleng genocide museum, which served as the notorious ''S-21'' interrogation and torture centre during the regime, in Phnom Penh September 16, 2008. REUTERS/Chor Sokunthea

A tourist takes a picture of portraits of Khmer Rouge victims on display at the Tuol Sleng genocide museum, which served as the notorious ''S-21'' interrogation and torture centre during the regime, in Phnom Penh September 16, 2008.

Credit: Reuters/Chor Sokunthea

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PHNOM PENH (Reuters) - The United States has agreed to give $1.8 million to Cambodia's Khmer Rouge tribunal, its first contribution to the long-awaited trial of Pol Pot's top surviving henchmen for the atrocities of the "Killing Fields".

U.S. Deputy Secretary of State John Negroponte said on Tuesday concerns about corruption at the court were now outweighed by the need for Washington to participate in the closing pages of one of the 20th century's darkest chapters.

An estimated 1.7 million people were executed or died of torture, starvation or disease during Pol Pot's disastrous four-year agrarian revolution in the late 1970s.

"There have been some issues about the management of the court but these are not reasons to the level where we felt that justifies withholding any contribution to the court any further," Negroponte said during a visit to the southeast Asian country.

As well as meeting Prime Minister Hun Sen -- a former Khmer Rouge soldier who lost an eye in the final assault on Phnom Penh in 1975 -- Negroponte visited S-21, the high school that became the ultra-Maoist regime's main interrogation and torture centre.

The tribunal, a complicated mix of Cambodian and international law, is trying to secure an extra $87 million in funding on top of an initial budget of $56 million to allow it to run to 2010.

Five top Khmer Rouge cadres have been charged with war crimes or crimes against humanity and are now in custody, awaiting trial. Pol Pot himself died in 1998 in the final Khmer Rouge redoubt of Anlong Veng on the Thai border.

(Reporting by Ek Madra; Editing by Ed Cropley)

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