Wednesday, June 24, 2009

International Prosecutor Quits Cambodia Khmer Rouge Trial

PHNOM PENH, Cambodia (AFP)--The international prosecutor at Cambodia's Khmer Rouge war crimes tribunal announced his resignation Tuesday from the court, which is trying the late 1970s regime's prison chief.

Canadian prosecutor Robert Petit said in a news statement that "for personal and family reasons" he would soon leave his position at the U.N.-backed court.

Petit has previously clashed with his Cambodian co-prosecutor over whether to go after more suspects from the hard-line communist movement at the tribunal.

"I remain convinced that Cambodia's hopes for a better future lie, in part, on true accountability for crimes," Petit said in the statement.

"My staff and I have tried, within our jurisdiction, to contribute to that goal to the best of our abilities," he said.

The court's long-awaited first trial has seen Kaing Guek Eav, better known by the alias Duch, accept responsibility for overseeing the torture and execution of more than 15,000 people at Tuol Sleng prison.

Four other Khmer Rouge leaders are also in detention awaiting trial, but while Petit has sought to bring more cadres to justice, Cambodian co-prosecutor Chea Leang has disagreed.

Lawyers for detained former Khmer Rouge ideologue Nuon Chea have alleged Petit has knowledge that his co-prosecutor was ordered by the Cambodian government not to pursue more former regime members.

In a Tuesday letter to Petit, which they distributed to the press, Nuon Chea's lawyers Michiel Pestman and Victor Koppe demanded a written reply to the allegation by the end of this week.

Petit wasn't immediately available to comment on the allegations, and is due to formally leave his position Sept. 1.

The tribunal is conducting the search for Petit's successor, a court press official said.

After years of wrangling between the Cambodian government and the U.N., the court was created in 2006 to try leading members of the communist 1975-79 Khmer Rouge regime and began its first trial in February.

But the court has faced controversy over a series of government interference allegations and claims that Cambodian staff were forced to pay kickbacks for their jobs.

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