Salaries as elusive as justice at Cambodia's Khmer Rouge trial

A Cambodian man looks at pictures of former Khmer Rouge leader "Brother Number Two" Nuon Chea (L), former Khmer Rouge leader head of state Khieu Samphan (2nd L), former Khmer Rouge deputy prime minister and minister of foreign affairs Ieng Sary (2nd R) and former Khmer Rouge leader ex-social affairs minister Ieng Thirith (R) during the trial of former Khmer Rouge leaders at the Extraordinary Chamber in the Courts of Cambodia (ECCC) in Phnom Penh on November 21, 2011.

PHNOM PENH - Cambodian staff at a Khmer Rouge war crimes tribunal have gone two months without pay and are threatening a walkout amid a deepening funding crisis at a court already bogged down by resignations and the ill health of its elderly defendants.

Some 270 Cambodians have not been paid since November and are working at the UN-backed court without contracts, caught up in a standoff between donors and a government criticised for its lack of support for hearings into one of the darkest chapters of the 20th century.

Between 1.7 and 2.2 million people, almost a quarter of Cambodia's population, died between 1975 and 1979 under the ultra-Maoist Khmer Rouge regime.

Pol Pot, the architect of the "Year Zero" revolution, died in 1998, but his sidekicks are now on trial for murder and crimes against humanity, among a litany of charges.

"They gave us some information about our salaries but it didn't really explain anything," said one staff member, declining to be identified as he is not authorised to speak to the media, referring to the court.

"We are angry and discouraged," he told Reuters, adding that he and many of his colleagues planned to walk out if they were not paid within the next two weeks.

The funding dispute puts the spotlight on the commitment of the government, which has been accused of interfering behind the scenes to put the brakes on the court and limit the scope of investigations that could implicate powerful political figures.

Prime Minister Hun Sen, himself a former Khmer Rouge guerrilla who defected to the regime's eventual conquerors, Vietnam, has said he would "not allow" any new indictments and would be happy if the United Nations packed up and left.

Following months of appeals, the international side of the court has managed to secure enough funding to keep its side going, but the problems do not stop at finances.

Two international investigating judges quit in the space of six months in 2011 and 2012 over what they said was political interference, and many Cambodians fear the three remaining defendants in the court's second case - "Brother Number Two" Nuon Chea, former Foreign Minister Ieng Sary and ex-president Khieu Samphan - may not live to hear a verdict.

The three former Khmer Rouge leaders have all denied responsibility for the mass deaths during their rule.

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