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Cambodia war crimes court averts strike over wages

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(Globalpost/GlobalPost)

Cambodia's cash-strapped war crimes tribunal has staved off a strike by local staff over unpaid wages that would have further delayed the trial of two Khmer Rouge leaders, officials said on Friday.

About 270 Cambodian employees at the UN-backed court -- including drivers, prosecutors and judges -- have not received their salaries for this year and had threatened to walkout at the start of April.

But last-ditch talks by the UN-appointed fundraiser for the tribunal with Cambodian officials and international donors secured funds to pay wages until the end of April, averting the strike -- which would have been the second following a walkout on March 4.

"A temporary financial solution" has been reached after the "urgent meetings", UN spokesman Lars Olsen said.

Judge Silvia Cartwright confirmed that funding for the Cambodian staff had been "secured through to the end of April" and that "discussions are under way to stabilise funding from that point on".

The tribunal has been frequently short of cash since it was set up in 2006 to push for justice for the deaths of up to two million people under the hardline communist regime.

The Cambodian side of the hybrid tribunal -- whose top donors include Japan, the European Union and Australia -- urgently needs around $7 million to cover costs for 2013.

The money for wages comes from the international portion of the budget for the trial and Cambodia will reimburse the sum, the UN spokesman added, without giving details of how much it is.

The March 14 death of Ieng Sary, one of the regime's few public faces, intensified fears the remaining two elderly co-defendants may also not survive before verdicts can be reached in their trial.

"Brother Number Two" Nuon Chea, 86, and former head of state Khieu Samphan, 81, have denied charges of war crimes, genocide and crimes against humanity.

On Friday the war crimes court ruled that Nuon Chea, the most senior surviving leader of the Khmer Rouge, was fit to continue standing trial after his defence team had argued he was too weak to do so.

Led by "Brother Number One" Pol Pot, who died in 1998, the genocidal regime wiped out nearly a quarter of Cambodia's population through starvation, overwork or execution in a bid to create an agrarian utopia during their 1975-79 rule.

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http://www.globalpost.com/dispatch/news/afp/130329/cambodia-war-crimes-court-averts-strike-over-wages