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Khmer Rouge tribunal prepares for first, and possibly only, verdict in Cambodia

The Khmer Rouge tribunal is set to deliver its first verdict Monday in the case of former torture chief Duch. It may also be the last verdict at a court beset by allegations of corruption and political interference

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Such controversies do not strengthen the confidence of donors, upon whom the court depends for its survival. The tribunal, which has already cost about $100 million, is chronically short of cash. It was bailed out most recently by Japan, which announced early this month that it would provide $2.3 million to pay salaries of national staff.

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The hybrid court places Cambodian staff alongside international staff, the latter of whom are directly employed by the United Nations and have not faced payroll troubles.

The tribunal is also blighted by unresolved allegations that Cambodian court employees were forced to pay kickbacks in order to obtain and keep their jobs.

Aging defendants

A further worry is that the painfully slow pace of justice may prevent further trials. No date has been set for the trial of top-level Khmer Rouge officials Khieu Samphan, Ieng Sary, Ieng Thirith, and Nuon Chea. All four suspects are elderly and have health problems. There are concerns that they may not live to face trial, particularly if Cambodian politicians engage in delay tactics.

The case against them became even more complicated in December when the court laid charges of genocide, which stemmed from the slaughter of ethnic Vietnamese and Cham Muslims. Both Mr. Chandler and Philip Short, who wrote the definitive biography of deceased Khmer Rouge leader Pol Pot, say the charges were dubious and would only serve to delay proceedings.

Short argues that the minority ethnic communities were targeted for political reasons, as was much of the majority ethnic Khmer population. In an e-mail interview, Mr. Short called the charges “misconceived and unhelpful.” He argues that the suspects already faced charges of crimes against humanity, which would be much easier to prove.

The court’s former lead prosecutor, Robert Petit, has also expressed worry that the remaining suspects may escape justice.

“That’s one of the things that keeps me awake at night,” he says.

(Editor's note: This article originally mistated the duration of the trial and the number of visitors to the court.)