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Asia-pacific

Final arguments begin in trial of Khmer Rouge prison chief Duch

Video by Luke BROWN , Pierrick Leurent

Text by FRANCE 24

Latest update : 2009-11-23

Cambodia's Khmer Rouge war crimes court on Monday began final arguments in the trial of Kaing Guek Eav, better known as Duch, bringing the regime's prison chief closer to justice for the "Killing Fields" atrocities 30 years ago.

Cambodia's UN-backed war crimes court this week hears final arguments in the trial of Khmer Rouge prison chief Kaing Guek Eav, alias Duch.

On Monday, representatives on behalf of 93 victims of the notorious Tuol Sleng prison camp gave testimony. Duch had been responsible for the prison, also known as S21, from 1975-1979, during which time he is thought to have overseen the deaths of 15,000 men, women and children.

According to Nelson Rand, FRANCE 24 correspondent in Phnom Penh, the victims’ legal counsel said that Duch’s apologies were insufficient, and that Duch “failed to disclose the full truth and sought to minimise his role. They said his claim that he was simply obeying orders and that he would have been killed otherwise was nonsense. Duch did have the power to make independent decisions.”

Throughout the trial, Duch’s legal counsel has stressed the defendant’s regret and his full collaboration with the tribunal. In an interview in October with FRANCE 24, Duch’s French lawyer, François Roux, said Duch “was at times a better prosecutor than the prosecutor himself. Even if the international tribunal does not consider the fact that Duch was only following orders, he should nonetheless benefit from mitigating circumstances.”

Though the question of the validity of an apology from Duch might seem trivial, experts say that more is at stake than meets the eye.

Cyril Payen, another FRANCE 24 correspondent reporting from Cambodia, explained the possible strategic importance of the apology: “This trial is reminiscent of Nuremberg, in which Albert Speer, who was close to Adolf Hitler, was not given the maximum penalty for the reason that he apologised.”

The long drawn-out trial began in February. The prosecution is scheduled to begin presenting its closing arguments Tuesday, and on Wednesday Duch’s legal counsel will give testimony. He faces a maximum term of life in prison.

A final verdict is expected at the beginning of 2010.

Duch’s trial is the first in a series involving alleged Khmer Rouge war criminals. Five others await trial, including Khieu Samphan, the former Khmer Rouge head of state and founder of Anghkar, the regime’s supreme body. Nun Chea, right-hand man to dictator Pol Pot, is also to stand trial.

Date created : 2009-11-23

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