PHNOM PENH — Cambodia’s troubled Khmer Rouge war crimes court suffered a new setback Monday with the resignation of a key prosecutor — the latest in a string of departures from the U.N.-backed tribunal. The announcement came as a strike by court staff over unpaid wages entered a second week, threatening to disrupt a high-profile trial of two former top regime leaders from the “Killing Fields” era in the late 1970s. International co-prosecutor Andrew Cayley said in a statement that he was leaving for “personal reasons.”
It follows the resignation of three international lawyers and two judges over the past two years amid allegations of government meddling. Cayley, however, said his decision was unrelated to the court’s woes. “It’s really personal circumstances. I am not leaving out of frustration with the court at all,” the British lawyer, who was appointed to the role in December 2009, told AFP. At the same time he voiced concern about the cash crunch at the tribunal, whose 250 Cambodian workers, including judges and prosecutors, have not been paid since June. “Of course, the financial situation of the court is frustrating to all of us,” Cayley said. Court spokesman Neth Pheaktra said the U.N., the Cambodian government, tribunal officials and donors were working to resolve the budget crisis. “But so far, there is no solution yet,” he said. U.N. chief Ban Ki-moon warned last month that the “very survival of the court is now in question.” The tribunal has been frequently short of cash since it was set up in 2006 to seek justice for the deaths of up to two million people under the brutal communist Khmer Rouge regime from 1975-79. The U.N. pays for the international workers while the salaries of the local staff are the responsibility of the Cambodian government, with both sides relying on international donors. Two defendants — “Brother Number Two” Nuon Chea, 87, and former head of state Khieu Samphan, 82, — are on trial for war crimes, genocide and crimes against humanity. The court is currently in recess and preparing to hear closing statements in the first part of the trial in mid October. Led by Pol Pot, who died in 1998, the Khmer Rouge wiped out nearly a quarter of Cambodia’s population through starvation, overwork or execution in a bid to create an agrarian utopia. So far the U.N.-backed court has achieved one conviction, sentencing a former prison chief to life in jail for overseeing the deaths of some 15,000 people. Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen — himself a former Khmer Rouge cadre — has repeatedly voiced opposition to pursuing more suspects after the current trial.