The United Nations today signed a landmark agreement with Cambodia to set up special courts to try the aging former leaders of the Khmer Rouge. At a signing ceremony in Phnom Pehn, UN Legal Counsel Hans Corell and his Cambodian counterpart, Senior Minister Sok An, signed the agreement concerning the prosecution – under Cambodian law – of crimes committed during the period of Democratic Kampuchea. The 32-article agreement, endorsed last month by the 191 members of the UN General Assembly, will create “Extraordinary Chambers,” comprising one trial court and one Supreme Court within the Cambodian legal system to “prosecute those most responsible for crimes and serious violations of Cambodian and international law between 17 April 1975 and 6 January 1979.” On the courts will be a mix of international and Cambodian judges. According to the agreement – which stresses the impartiality and independence of the prospective jurists – decisions in the two chambers would be taken by majority of four judges and five judges, respectively. “With this step, the quest of the Cambodian people for justice, national reconciliation, stability, peace and security is brought closer to realization,” said Mr. Corell said upon signing the agreement, adding that it marks the beginning of a new phase, with much work to be done before trials can begin. When the UN Assembly approved the agreement, it decided that the courts would be funded voluntarily and appealed for international assistance, including financial and personnel support. Secretary-General Kofi Annan has estimated the Chambers to cost more than $19 million over a three-year period. On the UN side, Mr. Annan will have to secure voluntary contributions from States to fund the assistance that the UN is to provide. On Cambodia’s side, the agreement will now be passed on to the National Assembly for ratification. Mr. Corell said today that the Secretary-General is fully conscious of the need to act quickly, otherwise the opportunity to bring to justice those responsible for serious violations of international and Cambodian law during the Khmer Rouge period will soon be lost. Mr. Annan is expected to send a planning mission to Phnom Penh in the near future, to discuss the requirements, in terms of personnel, equipment, supplies and other operating needs, of the Extraordinary Chambers.