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National Judges Miffed at Counterparts, as Tribunal Rift Widens

The Cambodian judges of the Khmer Rouge tribunal issued a statement Thursday chiding their international counterparts for canceling a meeting later this month, publicly widening a rift that observers fear will threaten the tribunal further.

In a statement issued through the Extraordinary Chambers in the Courts of Cambodia, the official name for the tribunal, the Cambodian judges said the cancellation marked an unwillingness by the UN-appointed judges to move a tribunal forward.

Earlier this week, international judges announced they would cancel an April 1 plenary session to establish internal rules for a tribunal because the Cambodian Bar Association would require foreign lawyers to pay fees amounting to $4,900 the first year to work on a tribunal.

No former Khmer Rouge leader has been indicted in the tribunal. Instead, the ECCC has been beset with difficulties, the most public and most recent among them the refusal of the bar association to lower fees for foreign lawyers.

International judges see the high fees as a watering down of the tribunal's standards.

The Cambodian judges censured the Defense Support Section of the ECCC for "not being active" in working with the Cambodian Bar Association to find a solution and said to the international judges that the fees should not affect the rules.

However, at least one rights worker said Friday the issues were related.

"The internal rules focus on the freedom to choose the lawyers freely. How can it be free when the fees are too high?" said Long Panhavuth, director of the Fair Project for a Free Society. "I believe it is related. The defendants and the victims don't have lawyers to represent them freely. This has a great impact on international standards."

Observers warn that if a tribunal does not get under way soon, it will collapse under its own three-year time limit.

"The national judges…hope that the international judges will reconsider their decision and participate in the planned plenary session," according to the ECCC statement, quoting a letter the Cambodian judges say they sent to their international counterparts.