PHNOM PENH A second international judge resigned from the troubled U.N.-backed Khmer Rouge war crimes tribunal on Monday, citing political interference by Cambodia's government after he tried to investigate more suspects.
Swiss reserve co-investigating judge Laurent Kasper-Ansermet, whose predecessor German Siegfried Blunk quit for similar reasons in October, said he had been constantly undermined by his Cambodian counterpart, You Bunleng.
"Judge Laurent Kasper-Ansermet considers that the present circumstances no longer allow him to properly and freely perform his duties," the court said in a statement.
Kasper-Ansermet, who took over in November, was pursuing two unidentified suspects in the highly controversial cases known as 003 and 004, which relate to their roles in the "year zero" revolution that killed as many as 2.2 million Cambodians between 1975 and 1979.
His predecessor refused to probe the two suspects, widely believed to be former Khmer Rouge military commanders, despite what justice watchdogs said was plentiful evidence to build a case. He refused to explain his decision.
Critics have accused Cambodia's government of trying to prevent further cases from being investigated. Prime Minister Hun Sen, himself a former Khmer Rouge soldier, in 2010 told U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon that more indictments were "not allowed" and has previously said he would be happy if the court packed up and left.
The hybrid U.N.-Cambodian court is now hearing case 002, involving the three most senior surviving Khmer Rouge cadres, who are accused of war crimes, genocide and crimes against humanity. The architect of the "Killing Fields", Pol Pot, died in 1998.
Kasper-Ansermet's resignation is the latest setback for a court that has spent more than $150 million since its formation in 2005, passing just one sentence, a 35-year jail term, commuted to 19 years, for Kaing Guek Eav, also know as Duch, for his role in the deaths of more than 14,000 people at a torture centre.
That sentence was extended on February 3 to life imprisonment after an appeal by the prosecution.
French historian Henri Locard, an expert on the Khmer Rouge, said that as a result of opposition from Cambodia's government, which includes several of the group's former members, it was unlikely that new cases would be brought to the court.
"This is just clear political interference. It's about protecting yourself," Locard said.
The Cambodian government issued no immediate comment.
(Reporting by Prak Chan Thul; Editing by Martin Petty and Daniel Magnowski)