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U.N. Will Consider Request for Khmer Rouge Tribunal

By John M. Goshko
The Washington Post

The United States urged the Security Council on Thursday to establish a war crimes tribunal to try leaders of the Khmer Rouge for the murders of more than 1 million people when Cambodia was under Khmer Rouge control in the 1970s.

Pol Pot, who headed the Khmer Rouge regime that forcibly sent thousands of Cambodians to die in what became known as "the killing fields," died two weeks ago. But several of his cohorts in the regime that was ousted from power by Vietnam in 1979 are still at large, and the U.S. move is aimed at them.

U.S. officials said they acted at this time because the remaining Khmer Rouge guerrilla forces are believed to be on the verge of collapse, and the remaining leaders are expected to flee into Thailand or other neighboring countries.

A draft resolution introduced by the United States to the 15-nation council calls for the proposed tribunal to operate in The Hague, where the United Nations already has a special tribunal to try persons accused of war crimes in the former Yugoslavia.

Under the U.S. proposal, the new court would have its own judges but would share the facilities of the current court.

The world body has also established a tribunal in Arusha, Tanzania, to prosecute those accused of complicity in the 1994 genocide in Rwanda.

The United Nations will hold a special meeting in Rome this summer to consider creation of a permanent international criminal court to deal with war criminals.

U.S. officials said they expected considerable debate about the Cambodia proposal, and they said the draft resolution tabled Thursday almost certainly would undergo revision. The debate over a permanent war crimes court has revealed that a number of countries, including the United States, insist on stringent safeguards to ensure such courts do not infringe on the sovereignty of individual U.N. members or cannot be used for frivolous, politically motivated attacks.

The potentially biggest obstacle facing the U.S. plan could be opposition from China, a permanent council member with the power to veto any resolution. During the 1970s, China was a strong supporter of the Khmer Rouge, although its current attitude toward the movement's leaders is less clear. In the 1980s, the Khmer Rouge, as part of various exile coalitions, kept Cambodia's seat in the U.N. General Assembly until U.N.-organized elections in the early 1990s opened the way for a new government.