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Cambodia shifts stand on Khmer Rouge trial

By P. S. Suryanarayana

SINGAPORE, JAN. 11. The United Nations on Tuesday indicated its willingness to sustain negotiations with Cambodia over the question of conducting a trial of the surviving leaders of the genocidal Khmer Rouge.

Cambodia, too, on its part, indicated a slight shift in its stand by expressing readiness to invite the U.N. and show it Phnom Penh's latest blueprint for a trial and discuss the Hun Sen administration's intentions. However, its finer details remained unclear.

The latest position was spelt out shortly after the visiting Japanese Prime Minister, Mr. Keizo Obuchi, held talks with his Cambodian counterpart, Mr. Hun Sen, in Phnom Penh today. Prior to these talks, it was widely expected in South East Asian capitals that Mr. Obuchi would urge his Cambodian host to involve the U.N. in some manner in the Khmer Rouge trial. Mr. Hun Sen had earlier said that he would seek Japanese participation in the prosecution of the Khmer Rouge leaders.

The U.N. Secretary General's personal representative in Cambodia, Mr. Lakhan Mehrotra, told this correspondent today that the U.N. would be willing to continue negotiations with the Government over the Khmer Rouge trial issue. Doubts in this connection were sparked by the recent approval of a trial plan by the Cambodian Cabinet. This was the Hun Sen administration's latest plan that had not yet been fully vetted by the U.N. under the terms of an earlier understanding between the two sides. The Cambodian Cabinet accepted a plan that was still under the final scrutiny of the U.N. in New York.

The crux of the Cambodian plan is the trial of a select group of former leaders of the now-defunct Khmer Rouge by judicial panels made up of a majority of Cambodian judges to be aided in some respects by a few foreign judges. The U.S. is believed to have played a facilitatory role in architecturing this plan but Washington and the U.N. are keen that the trial should be held according to international standards of jurisprudence and that the U.N. should have a say over the appointment of the foreign and Cambodian judges for this purpose.

Mr. Mehrotra, who is from India, is scheduled to leave Phnom Penh on Wednesday on the completion of his tenure and the closure of the office that he presided over in the new circumstances of a return of normality to Cambodia. He will now assume charge as the Director at the Jakarta office of the United Nations Transitional Administration in East Timor (UNTAET).

King Norodom Sihanouk of Cambodia conferred on Mr. Mehrotra the highest award that the monarch could give a foreigner, namely the ``Royal Order of Sahametrei'' for contributions on behalf of the U.N. towards the transformation of the Cambodian political- constitutional scene in the last few years.

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