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USA to give 1.8 million dollars to Cambodia's Khmer Rouge genocide tribunal

The United States will give US$1.8 million to Cambodia's genocide tribunal to aid its work in trying former Khmer Rouge leaders for their alleged crimes against humanity, a top U.S. official said Tuesday.

The pledge will be the first direct U.S. contribution to the U.N.-assisted tribunal, which inches toward convening a trial for its first suspect later this year.

Deputy Secretary of State John Negroponte said the U.S. government believes "the conditions are both appropriate and opportune to make this contribution."

The tribunal has detained five former Khmer Rouge leaders on charges of crimes against humanity and war crimes.

"We want to help this tribunal succeed, and we think it definitely has a chance to succeed," Negroponte said at a press conference at the end of a three-day visit to Cambodia.

The money will be given to the tribunal's U.N. side, which is staffed by international personnel. The tribunal, which is seeking justice for atrocities committed in the 1970s under the Khmer Rouge's rule, is jointly run by Cambodian and U.N. officials under a pact both sides signed in 2003.

The radical policies of the ultra-communist Cambodian group, which ruled from 1975 to 1979, caused the death of some 1.9 million people from starvation, diseases, overwork and execution.

Negroponte also toured the S-21 prison, the largest Khmer Rouge torture center in Cambodia's capital, Phnom Penh, to see what he called "a reminder of the holocaust."

It is now known as Tuol Sleng Genocide Museum, and holds exhibits of prisoner's mug shots, skulls, and other traces of the crimes committed during the Khmer Rouge's brutal rule.

"It's a very moving experience to see this museum, to see the reminiscence of the holocaust," Negroponte told The Associated Press after touring the museum early Tuesday morning.

He said the site is "a reminder of the holocaust that took place, and I think it's important to document it."

Up to 16,000 men, women and children were held at the prison before being taken out for execution before the Khmer Rouge's regime was ousted from power by a Vietnam-led invasion in 1979.

Washington has spent more than US$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 tribunal to assist it in investigating cases against the Khmer Rouge suspects.

More U.S. funds would also be available for the tribunal in future fiscal years, Negroponte said.

But he added that the U.S. "will certainly spare no effort" to ensure that all donor contributions "are put to good use," following recent mismanagement and corruption scandals faced by the tribunal.

The pledge came at a useful time as the existing funds for the U.N. side of the tribunal's operations are expected to be completely exhausted in December, said Peter Foster, a tribunal spokesman.

He said Cambodia and the international community have invested a great deal of time and money in making the tribunal happen and it would be "a real tragedy for it to fail now."