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Dwindling Funds Loom as Impending Tribunal Obstacle

The Open Society Justice Initiative warned Friday that dwindling funds in the Khmer Rouge tribunal coffers could lead to a catastrophe as the courts move toward trials of top leaders of the disastrous regime.

In a monthly report obtained by VOA Khmer, the independent courts monitor said additional funds must be raised from the Cambodian and international sides of the joint tribunal before the middle of next year for the special courts to function.

"Given the delays in beginning legal proceedings and their complexity, it is unlikely the court will finish its work within three years," the report warns. "Additional funds will thus be needed to cover the extended time frame."

Critics have long warned that too many delays have threatened the functioning of the tribunal, which only this month mustered five confidential names of suspects to be investigated for trial.

Of those, only one has been questioned and detained: Kaing Khek Iev, or Duch, head of the Tuol Sleng torture center.

OSJI outlined in its report critical functions that are not even listed in the current budget: judicial plenary sessions, meetings of judicial committees, audio and visual equipment, transcription services of proceedings and support for judicial leadership and the Victims Unit.

Other costs, such as translation, investigation, outreach and witness protection and support were underestimated in the original budget, OSJI reported.

"Considerable planning and explanation will be needed to raise sufficient additional funds to meet the court's needs," OSJI said.

A new round of budgeting could be an opportunity for the tribunal "to assess its needs and articulate those needs persuasively," the group said. "For instance, the court can show its commitment to outreach by developing a comprehensive plan and seek funding that ensures there is meaningful outreach to Cambodians throughout the country. "Likewise, this is an opportunity for the court to realistically assess likely threats to witnesses and defense lawyers and plan to meet those threats in a way that gives reasonable assurances to people who cooperate with the court."

Tribunal spokesman Reach Sambath acknowledged the budget shortage, but added that fundraising in October would be initiated.

"We are not worried [the tribunal] will be stuck in one place in the future," he said. "The waiting victims will be responded to shortly."