PHNOM PENH (Reuters) - Cambodian staff at a Khmer Rouge war crimes tribunal renewed threats to go on strike amid a deepening funding crisis at a court already bogged down by resignations and the ill health of its elderly defendants.
Some 250 Cambodians have not been paid since June and July at the U.N.-backed court and around 100 staff planned to strike on September 1, caught up in a standoff between donors and a government criticized for its lack of support for hearings into one of the darkest chapters of the 20th century.
The funding dispute puts the spotlight on the commitment of the government, which has been accused of interfering behind the scenes to put the brakes on the court and limit the scope of investigations that could implicate powerful political figures.
Between 1.7 million and 2.2 million people, almost a quarter of Cambodia’s population, died between 1975 and 1979 under the ultra-Maoist Khmer Rouge, many of them from overwork and torture.
“A total of around 100 staff planned to boycott their work from September 1, 2013, if any solution will not be found related to their delayed salaries,” said a court spokesman, Neth Pheaktra. “Some of them started to suspend their jobs since mid August and take their time to find other jobs.”
The court, dogged from the outset by allegations of corruption, political interference and profligacy, had spent $175.3 million by the end of last year and handed down just one conviction - that of former prison chief Kaing Guek Eav, alias “Duch”, who was jailed for life for the deaths of more than 14,000 people.
The European Union, who had called on Cambodia to come up with more cash for the tribunal, pledged $4 million this week, but that will only go to pay salaries of the international staff at the Extraordinary Chambers in the Courts of Cambodia (ECCC).
“This new contribution to the ECCC, the first to its international component, is a renewed proof of the commitment of the European Union to deliver justice for the Cambodian People,” said EU Ambassador Jean-François Cautain in a statement.
Under the agreement for the tribunal, the U.N. 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.
Editing by Jason Szep