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France pledges extra US$1 mil. to Cambodian genocide court

PHNOM PENH -- France will donate another million dollars to Cambodia’s cash-strapped genocide tribunal, helping ease fears that money troubles could further delay proceedings, French Human Rights Minister Rama Yade said Friday.

Yade visited the U.N.-backed tribunal and met with officials on Thursday to be updated on its progress and reaffirm French support for the court set up to try former Khmer Rouge leaders for atrocities committed during their 1975-1979 rule.

“One of the priorities for French diplomatic action abroad is international justice” and the “fight against impunity,” Yade told a press briefing at the French embassy here at the end of her three-day visit to Cambodia.

“Human rights should not just be words,” she said.

After Japan, France is the second largest donor to the court which has charged five former Khmer Rouge leaders with crimes against humanity and war crimes. It contributed US$5 million to the first appeal for funding.

The court said Thursday it hoped the trial of former Khmer Rouge jailer Duch, whose real name is Kaing Guek Eav, “could commence at the beginning of the last quarter of 2008.”

Originally budgeted at US$56.3 million over three years, the tribunal, which opened in 2006 after nearly a decade of wrangling between the U.N. and Cambodia, has significantly raised its cost estimates to US$170 million.

Up to two million people died of starvation and overwork, or were executed as the communist Khmer Rouge dismantled modern Cambodian society in a bid to forge an agrarian utopia during its 1975-1979 rule.

Five former regime leaders have been detained by the tribunal for their alleged role in one of the 20th century’s worst atrocities, the trials expected to begin later this year.

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