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In Kerry Appointment, Hopes for More Tribunal Support

Senator John Kerry emerges after a unanimous vote by the Senate Foreign Relations Committee approving him to become America's next top diplomat, January 29, 2013.

PHNOM PENH - Khmer Rouge tribunal observers say they hope to see an increase in US support for the UN-backed court if US Senator John Kerry is confirmed as Secretary of State as expected.

Kerry, whose presidential appointment is expected to be confirmed by Congress in coming days, was a major US broker in talks with the UN and Cambodia over the tribunal.

The tribunal has so far spent more than $150 million and has struggled with funding in recent years, with an acute shortage in recent months, as it continues the atrocity crimes trial of Nuon Chea, Khieu Samphan and Ieng Sary.

John Ciorciari, public policy professor at the University of Michigan, called Kerry a “key architect” of the hybrid court who helped broker compromises to reach a final agreement between the UN and Cambodia on how the court would work.

“He thus has a personal investment in the success of the process,” Ciorciari told VOA Khmer. “That could help ensure strong continuing US involvement, if he is confirmed as Secretary of State.”

Kerry also has a longstanding interest in Southeast Asia, following service there during the Vietnam War, Ciorciari said.

Muth Chantha, a tribunal observer who served as a UN translator during the negotiating process, said Kerry was key in asking the UN to withdraw some of its benchmark requirements for the court and in developing some of the acceptable formulas for how the court would function and how international and Cambodian judges would make decisions.

His work broke a two-year stalemate between the two sides, paving the way for the formation of the tribunal in 2006, Muth Chantha told VOA Khmer.

If confirmed as Secretary of State, Kerry could help ensure the court is properly funded, he said.

Ek Tha, a spokesman for the Council of Ministers, said Kerry remains a good friend of Cambodia who has a good relationship with the government.

His confirmation would be “a good sign” for diplomatic relations between the two countries, and especially for the court, in convincing international donors “to continue to support the tribunal, which is falling short of funds,” Ek Tha said.

The court is currently embroiled in a controversy with more than 200 Cambodian staff members, who say they will walk out at the end of January if they are not paid their salaries for December.

Chhang Youk, director of the Documentation Center of Cambodia, which receives US funding and has collected millions of pages of documents, many of which are used by the court, said the US has a clear stance on bringing former Khmer Rouge leaders to justice.

Kerry’s appointment could mean more help from the US, however, he said.