Cambodia war crimes court averts strike over wages

Cambodia's cash-strapped war crimes tribunal has staved off a strike by local staff over unpaid wages that would have further delayed the trial of two Khmer Rouge leaders, officials said on Friday.

About 270 Cambodian employees at the UN-backed court -- including drivers, prosecutors and judges -- have not received their salaries for this year and had threatened to walkout at the start of April.

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.

But last-ditch talks by the UN-appointed fundraiser for the tribunal with Cambodian officials and international donors secured funds to pay wages until the end of April, averting the strike -- which would have been the second following a walkout on March 4.

"A temporary financial solution" has been reached after the "urgent meetings", UN spokesman Lars Olsen said.

Judge Silvia Cartwright confirmed that funding for the Cambodian staff had been "secured through to the end of April" and that "discussions are under way to stabilise funding from that point on".

The Cambodian side of the hybrid tribunal -- whose top donors include Japan, the European Union and Australia -- urgently needs around $7 million to cover costs for 2013.

The money for wages comes from the international portion of the budget for the trial and Cambodia will have to reimburse the sum, the UN spokesman added, without giving details of how much it is.

Neth Pheaktra, a Cambodian spokesman at the court, said it was "good news" and would prevent another "strike that may obstruct the trial".

The March 14 death of Ieng Sary, one of the regime's few public faces, intensified fears the remaining two elderly co-defendants may also not survive before verdicts can be reached in their trial.

"Brother Number Two" Nuon Chea, 86, and former head of state Khieu Samphan, 81, have denied charges of war crimes, genocide and crimes against humanity.

On Friday the war crimes court ruled that Nuon Chea, the most senior surviving leader of the Khmer Rouge, was fit to continue standing trial after his defence team had argued he was too weak to do so.

Led by "Brother Number One" Pol Pot, who died in 1998, the genocidal regime 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.

  • COMMENT: Xenophobia rears its ugly head in Singapore once more Sat, Apr 19, 2014
    COMMENT: Xenophobia rears its ugly head in Singapore once more

    Kirsten Han is a Singaporean blogger, journalist and filmmaker. She is also involved in the We Believe in Second Chances campaign for the abolishment of the death penalty. A social media junkie, she tweets at @kixes. The views expressed are … Continue reading →

  • Driving a $900,000 Porsche 918 Spyder to the future Sat, Apr 19, 2014
    Driving a $900,000 Porsche 918 Spyder to the future

    It’s more than just its inherent speed, or the whooshing noise that fills the cabin like a school choir jamming with James Hetfield. It’s what it represents in an industry full of skeptics. It’s a portal into the future – a time capsule left by some mad scientist born decades too soon. It’s something that shouldn’t exist. And yet it does.

  • COMMENT: Xenophobia rears its ugly head in Singapore once more
    COMMENT: Xenophobia rears its ugly head in Singapore once more

    Kirsten Han is a Singaporean blogger, journalist and filmmaker. She is also involved in the We Believe in Second Chances campaign for the abolishment of the death penalty. A social media junkie, she tweets at @kixes. The views expressed are … Continue reading →

  • 5 Unanswered Questions About Jesus
    5 Unanswered Questions About Jesus

    As Christians worldwide gather for Easter to celebrate their belief in the death and rebirth of Jesus, researchers continue to delve into the mysteries that surround the man. The following are five questions about Jesus that, for now, at least, remain unanswered. In 2008, astronomer Dave Reneke argued that the Star of Bethlehem (a celestial event long associated with Jesus' birth) may have been Venus and Jupiter coming together to form a bright light in the sky. Other researchers have claimed that a similar conjunction between Saturn and Jupiter occurred in October of 7 B.C. Still others have claimed that Jesus was born in the spring, based on stories about shepherds watching over their flocks in fields on the night of Jesus' birth — something they would have done in the spring, not the winter.