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UN secures funds for cash-strapped Cambodian court

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JUSTINE DRENNAN | September 18, 2013 05:33 AM EST | AP

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PHNOM PENH, Cambodia — Cambodia's U.N.-backed Khmer Rouge tribunal said Wednesday that it has secured a loan to pay the overdue salaries of its Cambodian staff, 140 of whom have been on strike since the start of the month.

Spokesman Neth Pheaktra said the U.N. had secured the $1.15 million loan from international donors to cover unpaid salaries from June through August.

He said he was optimistic the staff would agree to return to work at the tribunal, which is tasked with seeking justice for atrocities committed by the Khmer Rouge in the 1970s.

The Cambodian-run section of the tribunal still lacks an additional $1.8 million needed for operations from September through the end of the year, he added.

Budgetary shortfalls, along with the defendants' advanced age and poor health, have raised concerns the trials may grind to a halt before verdicts are reached for cases it is still hearing.

"The United Nations continues to work with major donors to try to identify additional funding to meet the salaries of national staff for the remainder of 2013," Lars Olsen, a spokesman for U.N. assistance to the tribunal, said in a statement.

"Any further strikes could risk delaying the judicial proceedings and jeopardize the court's ability to function," Olsen said.

Under the agreement that established the tribunal in 2006, the U.N. pays the salaries of the court's foreign staff, while it is the Cambodian government's responsibility to pay Cambodian employees. In reality, international donors often have stepped in to prop up the severely underfunded Cambodian side of the court.

The court spokesmen said they did not immediately have details on which countries had funded the loan, nor the timeframe for Cambodia's government to repay it.

An estimated 1.7 million Cambodians died from starvation, disease, forced labor and executions during the Khmer Rouge reign from 1975 to 1979.

The tribunal is currently trying two former Khmer Rouge leaders, former head of state Khieu Samphan, 82, and chief ideologue Nuon Chea, 87, for crimes against humanity, war crimes, genocide and other offenses. Ieng Sary, another defendant, died in March during the trial.