Khmer Rouge court faces new strike threat over wages

Khmer Rouge court faces new strike threat over wages

PHNOM PENH - Cambodian staff at the cash-strapped war crimes trial of ex-Khmer Rouge leaders have threatened to strike over unpaid wages, an official said Thursday, after the UN chief warned the court could fold.

Proceedings against former regime leaders have been beset by cash shortages and delays, prompting United Nations' Secretary-General Ban Ki Moon on Wednesday to appeal for international donors to step in.

Some 250 Cambodian staff, including judges and prosecutors, have not been paid since June and around 100 of them have said they will strike from Sunday, court spokesman Neth Pheaktra told AFP.

They will stop work "from Sept 1 until a solution is found and they are paid their late salaries", he added.

The tribunal has been frequently short of cash since it was set up in 2006 to push for justice for the deaths of up to two million people under the hardline communist regime in the late 1970s.

The Cambodian side of the hybrid tribunal - whose top donors include Japan, the European Union and Australia - urgently needs around US$3 million (S$3.8 million) to cover costs for 2013, Mr Pheaktra said.

The gravity of the funding crunch prompted Mr Ban's intervention on Wednesday.

"The very survival of the court is now in question. Financial failure would be a tragedy for the people of Cambodia, who have waited so long for justice," Mr Ban said according to a UN statement.

"This Court has achieved important successes in prosecuting the brutal crimes committed by the Khmer Rouge regime. Yet, today, the Court is in crisis," he said, adding funds have "run dry".

The court was forced to suspend proceedings for about two weeks in March after a strike over unpaid wages.

The trial has also been hit by a string of high-profile resignations amid allegations of political meddling, as well as concerns about slow progress due to the octogenarian defendants' ill health.

Regime co-founder Ieng Sary died in March at the age of 87, escaping a court judgement over his role in the regime's reign of terror, and adding to doubts about whether other top leaders would live to face verdicts.

Two defendants - Khmer Rouge "Brother Number Two" Nuon Chea, 87, and former head of state Khieu Samphan, 82, - are currently on trial for roles in the regime.

Both deny charges of war crimes, genocide and crimes against humanity.

Led by "Brother Number One" Pol Pot, who died in 1998, the Khmer Rouge wiped out nearly a quarter of Cambodia's population through starvation, overwork or execution in a bid to create an agrarian utopia during their 1975-79 rule.

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