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September 23, 2017

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Twitter stokes row at Khmer Rouge court

PHNOM PENH -- Controversial tweets by a Khmer Rouge tribunal judge have inflamed a damaging public spat between the U.N. and Cambodia and raised questions over how Twitter is used in the courts.

Laurent Kasper-Ansermet has angered Phnom Penh by using the microblogging site to draw attention to the court's much-criticized handling of two possible new Khmer Rouge crimes against humanity cases.

Cambodia, which opposes prosecutions beyond two initial trials, has refused to endorse him as a new investigating judge, effectively halting new work at the U.N.-backed court, which was set up to seek justice for the deaths of up to two million people during the regime's 1975-79 rule.

"Does my known determination to investigate cases three and four explain the opposition by some to my official nomination?" aked the Swiss judge in a Jan. 15 tweet in French after hearing his appointment had been rejected.

That post broke with his previous reluctance to air a direct opinion on proceedings, but @LKasperAnsermet has since been silent on the Khmer Rouge tribunal.

"I would say I don't want to put oil on the fire. It's a sensitive issue," he told AFP, acknowledging the stir he had caused.

Last month Phnom Penh issued a statement saying the tweets "violate" judicial ethics and could "cause confusion or doubts" regarding his impartiality.

Kasper-Ansermet stressed that most of his posts were links to news articles and date back to when he was still a reserve judge.

"I was interested in what was happening at the court," he said. "At no time did I express my personal view or disclose any confidential information."

The United Nations has called Cambodia's "ethical concerns" about the judge "unfounded" and stands by the appointment, which filled the vacancy created when a German judge abruptly resigned in October citing political interference at the court.

The brutal Khmer Rouge presided over the deaths of almost a quarter of the country's population through starvation, overwork and execution in a bid to create an agrarian utopia.

But the Cambodian government, which counts many former Khmer Rouge members among its ranks, strongly objects to trials beyond the court's first two cases involving a former prison chief and three top ex-regime leaders, claiming that going after more suspects could destabilize the country.

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