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Cambodia ratifies deal to try Khmer Rouge leaders

Tribunal would target murderous regime

PHNOM PENH, Cambodia -- Cambodia's legislature approved a long-delayed agreement today to put surviving Khmer Rouge leaders on trial for atrocities that claimed nearly two million lives during their murderous rule in the late 1970s.

All of the 107 lawmakers who attended the National Assembly session early today voted in favor of the pact to establish a UN-assisted tribunal.

After more than five years of talks, Cambodia signed the agreement with the United Nations in June 2003, but ratification of the deal was delayed, largely because the country had no functioning legislature during the 11-month political crisis that followed inconclusive elections in July of last year.

The deaths of 1.7 million Cambodians from starvation, disease, overwork, and execution are attributed to the ultra-communist Khmer Rouge, which ruled from 1975 to 1979.

The atrocities were portrayed in the 1984 film, ''The Killing Fields."

None of the regime's top leaders has been brought to justice. The movement's chief, Pol Pot, died in 1998. Several of his top lieutenants, aging and infirm, still live freely in Cambodia.

Ta Mok, the former army chief, and Kaing Khek Iev, the chief interrogator, are the only two senior Khmer Rouge figures currently in detention awaiting trial.

In December, Khieu Samphan, 72, a former head of state who is expected to also be indicted, acknowledged that the regime committed genocide. It was the first public admission of the communist organization's collective guilt.

''Everything has to go the trial's way now, and there's no other way," he said then. ''I have to prepare myself not to let the time pass away. But I also want the public to understand about me, too. I was not involved in any killings."

Prince Norodom Ranariddh, head of the National Assembly, said earlier that the ratification of the tribunal deal could take two days because of the need to debate and adopt several amendments to the tribunal law, which provides a framework for the proposed court's operation. Instead, the vote was decided in a matter of hours.

The tribunal will comprise teams of Cambodian and foreign prosecutors and judges, with Cambodians in the majority, and any decisions will require a vote of the majority plus one.

The Cambodian government and the world body are expected to discuss the tribunal budget, currently estimated to be $57 million.

Cambodia has pledged to cover about half of the costs, but foreign funding would be needed to cover the remainder.

Returning from a trip to the United Nations General Assembly in New York Saturday, Foreign Minister Hor Namhong said he had urged Secretary-General Kofi Annan to quickly find donors to fund the tribunal, fearing the aging Khmer Rouge leaders could die before the court is convened.

He said Annan had proposed that the government submit a written request to him to launch a new appeal for funds.

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