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Lawyers argue over atrocity film in Khmer Rouge trial

Video by Shona BHATTACHARYYA , George HARRIS

Latest update : 2009-02-18

Lawyers for 'Comrade Duch' were arguing on Wednesday over the use of Vietnamese film evidence of the 'S-21' prison, overseen by former prison director Duch, the first Khmer Rouge leader on international trial. More than 15,000 people died there.


Our Observer in Phnom Pehn explains why the tribunal is important to modern Cambodia.


AFP - Lawyers at the trial of the Khmer Rouge's chief torturer argued Wednesday over the use of a film showing the liberation of the prison where he allegedly oversaw the deaths of 15,000 Cambodians.
Cambodia's UN-backed genocide tribunal launched an initial hearing in the trial of Kaing Guek Eav, better known by the alias Duch, on Tuesday. It wrapped up on Wednesday and full hearings are expected to start next month.
Prosecutors told the court they wanted to introduce as evidence a film shot by Vietnamese forces showing conditions at the prison two days after they helped to drive the Khmer Rouge regime out of Phnom Penh on January 7, 1979.


"It is an absolute must for this trial chamber to have all available evidence," said co-prosecutor Robert Petit, adding that they wanted to call the cameraman and other witnesses related to the video.
However co-defence lawyer Kar Savuth questioned the authenticity of the evidence, and argued it should be considered a Vietnamese propaganda film.
"We the defence regard this video footage as having political motivation in nature to disguise the truth of the nature of the event," he said.
The video shows scenes of horror inside the abandoned prison, which was a former high school, including several bloated corpses strapped to iron bedframes where they were apparently tortured.
It also shows five children who survived the retreat of the Khmer Rouge from the jail by hiding in a pile of washing.
Duch, a former maths teacher now aged 66, could be seen listening impassively to the arguments through headphones on the second day of the trial's initial hearing, which is dealing with procedural and legal matters.
Lawyers also presented lists of witnesses, before the chief judge Nil Nonn announced the end of the initial hearing after just a day and a half.
He did not say when the trial would reopen, but court spokeswoman Helen Jarvis said substantive hearings with witness testimony would likely begin in "late March".
"There's greater understanding of how the trial will unfold and what the objectives of various parties are," Jarvis told reporters at the court.
Duch is charged with crimes against humanity, war crimes, torture and premeditated murder, and faces a life sentence. The tribunal cannot impose the death penalty.
He has taken responsibility for his iron-fisted rule at Tuol Sleng which was used as a mass torture centre to extract confessions from alleged traitors that they were spies for the CIA, KGB and other foreign powers.
Only a handful of the estimated 15,000 men, women and children sent to the prison are known to have survived. Most were executed and buried in mass graves at the so-called "Killing Fields" in Choeung Ek near the capital.
He has previously expressed regret for his crimes but has said that he was acting under orders from leaders of the 1975-1979 communist Khmer Rouge.


Led by "Brother Number One" Pol Pot, the Khmer Rouge rose to power as a tragic spinoff from the US conflict in Vietnam, emptying Cambodia's cities to take society back to a rural "Year Zero."
Up to two million people were executed or died of starvation and overwork under the movement. The Khmer Rouge were ousted by Vietnamese-backed forces in January 1979. Pol Pot died in 1998.
The Khmer Rouge genocide tribunal was established in 2006 after nearly a decade of wrangling between Cambodia and the United Nations, and has been further delayed by legal arguments and bail hearings.
The government of Cambodian premier Hun Sen, himself a former Khmer Rouge fighter, has been accused of trying to protect the regime's ex-cadres from justice.

Date created : 2009-02-18