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Asia

Clinton says Khmer Rouge tribunal is 'painful but necessary'

US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton described her visit to Cambodia as "very productive" before going on to Malaysia.

Hillary Rodham Clinton said she would try to resolve the matter of Cambodia's debt to the US

Hillary Rodham Clinton said she would try to resolve the matter of Cambodia's debt to the US

Diplomacy is not merely the art of what is said - sometimes what is not said can be as important.

There was a fair amount both said and unsaid by visiting US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton at a press conference in Phnom Penh on Monday.

Clinton came out strongly in favor of the UN human rights office, which the Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen recently demanded be shut down.

However, she avoided voicing an opinion about Hun Sen’s interference in the ongoing UN-backed genocide tribunal.

Clinton began her visit of Phnom Penh with a trip to the Tuol Sleng Genocide Museum, where thousands were imprisoned, tortured and killed

Clinton began her visit of Phnom Penh with a trip to the Tuol Sleng Genocide Museum, where thousands were imprisoned, tortured and killed

Last week, Hun Sen told UN secretary-general Ban Ki-moon, who was visiting, that the tribunal’s second case – that of four aging senior leaders of the Khmer Rouge – would be its last.

The tribunal, of course, is meant to base its decisions on who to prosecute on the evidence, not on politicians’ whims.

Focus on finding funding for Case Two

Clinton said the focus for now would be to secure funding for the next trial, which is scheduled to start next year.

"We are in full agreement with the government of Cambodia that Case 002 should be brought to trial as soon as possible. That is our first and most pressing piece of business. There is not yet the funding available to do that trial. The estimate is that somewhere between 46 and 50 million dollars will be needed."

However, the Secretary of State failed to outline a US position on Cambodia’s decision to end the tribunal after Case Two. She said only that the international community, which funds the bulk of the tribunal’s work, should "consult closely" with Phnom Penh.

"Peace and stability in jeopardy"

Meanwhile, Cambodian Foreign Minister Hor Namhong outlined the government’s concerns about further cases.

"There is question of expanding prosecutions beyond Case Two to include lower-level Khmer Rouge cadres. If the cases incorporate the next five people that could jeopardize the country’s peace and stability – and who would be responsible for that?"

If Clinton failed to come out with an endorsement of the court’s supposed independence, she did go to bat for the UN’s local human rights office. She said it was a valuable resource and cited the technical assistance that it provides the government and NGOs operating in Cambodia.

Clinton said she was impressed by Cambodia's ability to grapple with its past

Clinton said she was impressed by Cambodia's ability to grapple with its past

"The High Commissioner's office is active in ways that we think are very complementary to what the Cambodian government is committed to doing, and we think the work is important and we would like to see it continue."

Thorny issue of debt mentioned

Clinton also spoke about another thorny issue – what to do about the 445-million dollar debt Phnom Penh has owed Washington for almost four decades.

The debt stems from assistance given to the Lon Nol regime, which the US bankrolled prior to the Khmer Rouge takeover of Cambodia in 1975 and Cambodia has long called on the US to cancel it.

Clinton said a team of experts would head to Cambodia to discuss the matter, adding that the US had no preconceived notions about the form a deal might take, but that there were a number of areas, which could be pursued.

Clinton's next leg of her tour of the Asia-Pacific will see her in Malaysia.

Author: Robert Carmichael
Editor: Anne Thomas

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