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Concern Grows Over Delay in Tribunal Case for Aging Leaders

Former Khmer Rouge leaders Khieu Samphan, left, and Nuon Chea, right, look on during the funeral for Khieu Ponnary, the first wife of Khmer Rouge leader Pol Pot, in the former Khmer Rouge stronghold of Pailin, northwestern Cambodia, (File photo).

Observers say the UN-backed Khmer Rouge tribunal is running out of time to find justice for victims of the regime.

The court is currently preparing for the second stage of an atrocity crimes trial against aging leaders Nuon Chea and Khieu Samphan, but critics of the court worry the two men will die in detention without seeing a verdict.

The court has only successfully tried one defendant since its inception in 2006: Kaing Kek Iev, better known as Comrade Duch, the director of Tuol Sleg prison. One defendant, Ieng Thirith, was released after she was found mentally unfit to stand trial. Her husband, Ieng Sary, former foreign minister of the regime, later died in custody.

That leaves only Nuon Chea and Khieu Samphan currently in detention, awaiting a verdict on the first phase of their case and preparing for the second, officially called Case 002/2.

Peter Maguire, author of “Facing Death in Cambodia,” said the tribunal now must work to save the entire process from becoming a “debacle.”

“I think they can salvage something from this tribunal if they can get 002/2 underway,” he said. “But I think both the UN and the Cambodian government would be very happy to see the defendants die in custody, and they could say, ‘Oh well, look, the clock has run out, we did our best,’ and they both could save a little bit of face.”

Long Panhavuth, a court monitor for the Cambodia Justice Initiative, said the court has not been clear about the case, and now there is some confusion as to which judges and other officials will be in charge of the second phase.

More delays will upset victims and “delay justice,” he said.

Tribunal spokesman Neth Pheaktra said the Trial Chamber of the court is now working on plans for the second phase of the case, from now to to mid-2014.