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Judges sworn in as Khmer Rouge trials draw nearer

Written by: Staff

PHNOM PENH, July 3 (Reuters) Top Buddhist priests swore in Cambodian and foreign judges today for the trials of surviving Khmer Rouge leaders accused of responsibility for the deaths of 1.7 million people.

Although no date has been set for the trials of Pol Pot's surviving henchmen, the ceremony at the Royal Palace marked the beginning of the legal process, a tribunal spokesman said.

''It will end negative speculation that the trials will not take place,'' spokesman Reach Sambath said of a road to justice so long many people feared the surviving leaders of the ''Killing Fields'' era would die of old age before facing the judges.

''It is a very significant ceremony to mark the beginning of the legal process for the trials of the former Khmer Rouge leaders,'' he said.

Almost every Cambodian family lost relatives under the 1975-79 Khmer Rouge regime and none of its top leaders, some of whom are alive and living quietly in Cambodia, has ever faced trial.

The Buddhist monks swore in 27 legal experts-17 Cambodians and 10 foreigners -appointed to the tribunal, which has a three-year budget of 56.3 million dollars.

They promised to be impartial and ignore any pressures.

''It is a very historic day, something that people have been waiting for so many years,'' Helen Jarvis, the tribunal's Australian chief spokeswoman. ''Now we are really starting the judicial process.'' MORE REUTERS SHR HT1630

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