PHNOM PENH (Reuters) - Cambodia’s outspoken prime minister told U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon on Wednesday to remove a local U.N. representative and instruct Khmer Rouge war crimes prosecutors to limit the scope of their investigation.
Foreign Minister Hor Namhong, who attended a meeting between Ban and Hun Sen, said the long-serving premier threatened to close the office of the United Nation’s human rights body if its representative, Christophe Peschoux, was not replaced.
“Peschoux has not been working on human rights issues with the government but has been the spokesperson for opposition parties,” Namhong told reporters, quoting Hun Sen as telling Ban.
“Remove Peschoux. If Peschoux is not removed, the human rights office in Cambodia will be closed,” he added.
In New York, U.N. spokesman Martin Nesirky indicated Ban had defended Peschoux at the talks with Hun Sen.
“Human rights figured strongly in their discussions ... and I can confirm that the secretary-general stressed the notable role and value of (the U.N.) office in Phnom Penh, and that of course includes the person who heads that office,” Nesirky told reporters.
Hun Sen also urged Ban to ensure that prosecutors in the joint Cambodian-U.N. Khmer Rouge war crimes tribunal did not seek more indictments, which he said could create conflict in the war-scarred country.
The five-year-old, multi-million-dollar tribunal is preparing to hear its second case, dubbed 002, against four former top cadres of Pol Pot’s ultra-Maoist regime, which is blamed for the deaths of at least 1.7 million Cambodians from 1975-1979.
The current government, which includes several former Khmer Rouge members, has been accused by justice advocates and former victims of trying to stall the tribunal and interfere with judges to avoid being implicated themselves.
Hun Sen, himself a former foot soldier, has previously said he hoped the court would run out of funds because he was concerned its investigations would reopen old wounds and trigger another civil war.
“We must think of peace in Cambodia,” Namhong said, relating Hun Sen’s comments to Ban. “This tribunal is a failure if it requires a case 003.”
Ban, who leaves Cambodia on Thursday, was greeted by angry protesters asking him to intervene in hundreds of land dispute cases.
Rights groups and foreign aid donors complain state officials are forcibly evicting farmers, villagers and city residents to sell prime land to foreign and local businesses.
Spokesman Nesirky said the United Nations was open to receiving a petition.
“If there is some kind of written communication that these people who are protesting against eviction would like to hand over, I’m sure that that will be possible,” he said.
Additional reporting by Patrick Worsnip at the United Nations; Editing by Miral Fahmy and Jerry Norton