The agreement between the United Nations and Cambodia to establish the Khmer Rouge Tribunal was made in 2004. The investigation phase is expected to take about six months. Trials are expected to begin in early 2007.
Helen Jarvis, the tribunal's media officer, says "Cambodians have been waiting for a whole generation for this day":
"People are just relieved that after so many delays we finally seem to be implementing what's been planned for so long."
When the Khmer Rouge took power in 1975, Cambodia had a population of over seven-million people. By the time that regime was overthrown in 1978, an estimated one-million-five-hundred-thousand Cambodians had perished.
The Communist Khmer Rouge targeted military and civilian leaders of the former government, ethnic minorities, intellectuals, physicians, teachers, and other professionals. Those who resisted or questioned orders were killed. The Khmer Rouge systematically emptied urban areas, forcing residents into the countryside, where they lacked food, agricultural implements, and medical care. Many died from malnutrition.
In Phnom Penh, the Cambodian capital, a former prison has been converted into a museum to document Khmer Rouge atrocities and educate Cambodians and foreigners about this terrible period of Cambodian history. Cambodia still faces many challenges, including poverty, lack of the rule of law, and corruption. "But," says Joseph Mussomeli, the U.S. ambassador to Cambodia, "looking back, it is genuinely remarkable how far Cambodia has come in so short a period. Cambodia's democracy, he says, "is still in its adolescence. It is barely fifteen years old. And considering its age," says Ambassador Mussomeli, Cambodia "has achieved a great deal that all Cambodians ought to take pride in."
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