Several staff members working for the investigating judges in Cambodia's U.N.-backed war crimes court have quit amid concerns court officials are buckling to government demands to dismiss new Khmer Rouge cases.
The investigating judges, German Siegfried Blunk and Cambodian You Bunleng, meanwhile, said they would deal with the new cases "in a competent and timely manner" despite their staff's departure.
It is not known how many staff members quit, but the move is expected to deal a setback to the international genocide tribunal established to try ex-Khmer Rouge leaders allegedly involved in crimes against humanity.
The investigating judges of the Extraordinary Chambers in the Courts of Cambodia (ECCC), as the tribunal is formally known, have already come under criticism after they said they had concluded a probe into a third Khmer Rouge case without questioning the suspects.
There are concerns that they are preparing to do the same with case four.
"They [the staff] found new jobs outside [of ECCC] but they declared that they resigned to show their disagreement with the work of co-investigating judges on cases 003 and 004," said Dim Sovannarom, the chief spokesman for the tribunal.
"Their departures will not affect or block the work of the office of co-investigating judges," he said. "The remaining capable staff will continue to carry out this task."
When necessary, he said, the co-investigating judges will recruit more staff.
The judges emphasized in a separate statement on Sunday that "they are able to deal with cases 003 and 004 in a competent and timely manner with remaining staff members, supplemented if necessary by short-term contractors."
Last week, the judges said that it was apparent that "a disloyal staff member" had leaked the prosecutors' submission. They warned that "anyone publishing information from this confidential document" would risk contempt of court charges.
The announcement followed a statement last month by international prosecutor Andrew Cayley, who called the judges' 20-month-long investigation deficient.
His comments revealed the investigating judges had failed to undertake such basic steps as questioning the two suspects in case three or visiting sites where their alleged crimes had taken place.
Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen has repeatedly voiced his objection to further Khmer Rounge trials, saying they could plunge the country into civil war.
In its landmark first trial, the tribunal sentenced former prison chief Kaing Guek Eav, better known as Duch, to 30 years in jail in July for overseeing the deaths of 15,000 people.
That case is now under appeal, while a second trial involving four of the regime's most senior surviving leaders is due to start on June 27.
The hardline communist Khmer Rouge movement oversaw one of the worst horrors of the 20th century, wiping out up to two million people through starvation, overwork, and execution in a bid to forge an agrarian utopia.
Reported by RFA's Khmer service. Translated by Sok Ry. Written in English by Parameswaran Ponnudurai.