>US to help fund Cambodian genocide tribunal

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Cambodia’s Prime Minister Hun Sen, right, and U.S. Deputy Secretary of State John Negroponte watch a signing ceremony in Phnom Penh, Cambodia, Monday, Sept. 15, 2008. The United States has decided to help fund the Cambodian genocide tribunal’s work in putting former Khmer Rouge leaders on trial, a government official said Monday. (AP Photo/Heng Sinith)

PHNOM PENH, Cambodia (AP) — The United States announced Monday it has decided to help fund the Cambodian genocide tribunal’s work in putting former Khmer Rouge leaders on trial.

Deputy Secretary of State John Negroponte told Cambodian Foreign Minister Hor Namhong about his government’s decision to fund the tribunal during their meeting Monday, a Cambodian Foreign Ministry spokesman, Koy Kuong, told reporters.

Washington has so far provided no direct funding. It was not clear how much money the U.S. government will give, but Koy Kuong said Negroponte will announce the figure at a press conference Tuesday, the last day of his three-day visit to Cambodia.

U.S. embassy officials could not be immediately reached for comment.

The U.S. diplomat also held talks with Prime Minister Hun Sen, who described the discussions as “positive.”

Washington has spent more than $7 million over the past decade to support the work of the Documentation Center of Cambodia, an independent group that collects evidence of Khmer Rouge crimes.

The group has given many documents to the U.N.-assisted tribunal to assist it in investigating cases against the Khmer Rouge suspects.

The tribunal has detained five former Khmer Rouge leaders on charges of crimes against humanity and war crimes. The trial of the first suspect is planned for later this year.

The communist Khmer Rouge, who held power in 1975-79, are blamed for the death of an estimated 1.7 million people from hunger, disease, overwork and execution.

The tribunal, jointly run by Cambodian and United Nations personnel, has been appealing for more money to carry out its tasks.

Negroponte’s visit is the latest sign of improved relations between Cambodia and the United States.

On Monday, he joined Hun Sen and other Cambodian officials in overseeing the signing of an agreement for $24 million in U.S. assistance for economic development projects in Cambodia.

The U.S. lifted a ban on direct aid to the Cambodian government last year. Washington imposed the ban in 1997 after Prime Minister Hun Sen ousted Prince Norodom Ranariddh, then his co-premier, in a coup.

Before the ban was lifted, U.S. aid to impoverished Cambodia was mostly channeled to projects implemented by private groups.

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