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Tribunal Seeks Tripled Budget as Worry Rises

Tribunal officials sought to triple the budget of the special courts Thursday, asking donors in New York for an additional $114 million on a day that saw one former Khmer Rouge leader in the dock and two in the hospital.

Former Khmer Rouge military commander Sam Bith joined former foreign minister Ieng Sary in Phnom Penh’s Calmette Hospital, as jailed ideologue Nuon Chea appeared for a bail hearing Thursday morning.

Sam Bith was in critical condition, hospital officials said Thursday, declining to elaborate.

Sam Bith, who was given a government advisory position after his defection from the Khmer Rouge, has not been charged by the tribunal.

He is serving a life sentence for his role in the murder of three Western backpackers in 1994.

Sam Bith’s hospitalization added to worries that the aging former leaders of the Khmer Rouge will die without seeing atrocity crimes trials.

Tribunal administrators, meanwhile, sought to allay worries that the tribunal will run out of time and money before trials can be conducted, by asking donors to triple the courts’ budget.

The tribunal’s initial $56 million budget was too low, and up to $170 million will be needed before the courts can finish their mandate, to charge senior leaders of the regime with atrocity crimes.

“We are proposing a little bit more time and quite a bit more money, but this is to fill the gap that currently exists,” UN tribunal spokesman Peter Foster said. “What we are asking for is support for the Victim Unit, for translation and interpretation and audio visual and other services that are essential for us to complete our mandate.”

The request would take the tribunal through March 2011, Foster said. As many as 12 former senior leaders of the regime could face tribunal charges, he said.

The budget was proposed at a Jan. 5 meeting with donors, but it remains unclear which countries may be willing to contribute.

US officials say they will not fund a tribunal that does not reach international standards.

The tribunal, meanwhile, continued with trial proceedings of already jailed leaders.

Former ideologue Nuon Chea appeared before tribunal judges Thursday, arguing he should be released ahead of his atrocity crimes trial.

“I have no intention of fleeing my dear mother land,” he told judges. “I have no intention of putting pressure on witnesses and influencing them.”

The full-day hearing—the second to be held by the tribunal so far—was adjourned and will continue Friday, when a decision is expected from Pre-Trial Chamber judges.

(Mean Veasna and Heng Reaksmey in Phnom Penh contributed to this report.)