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Asia-pacific

Khmer Rouge torturer Duch in surprise plea for release

Text by News Wires

Latest update : 2009-11-27

In a stunning turn of events, former Khmer Rouge prison chief Duch has asked for his acquittal on the last day of his trial after having acknowledged responsibility for the murder of 15,000 men, women and children at Cambodia's notorious S-21 prison.

AFP - Former Khmer Rouge prison chief Duch asked Cambodia's UN-backed war crimes court Friday to acquit and release him, in a surprise development on the final day of arguments in his nine-month trial.
  
The 67-year-old had previously said that he admitted responsibility for overseeing the murders of around 15,000 men, women and children at the notorious S-21 or Tuol Sleng prison and begged for forgiveness.
  
International prosecutors earlier this week asked the judges to impose a jail sentence of 40 years on Duch, whose real name is Kaing Guek Eav, for his role in the brutal 1975-1979 communist regime.
  
"I would ask the chambers to release me. Thank you very much," Duch said at the end of his closing statement to the court, officially known as the Extraordinary Chambers in the Courts of Cambodia.
  
Following a query by judges, Duch's Cambodian lawyer, Kar Savuth, then confirmed that Duch was asking to be acquitted on the grounds that he was not a senior member of the Khmer Rouge hierarchy.
  
Duch's request comes after earlier signs of disharmony between his Cambodian defence lawyers and his international counsel.
  
Kar Savuth said on Wednesday for the first time that Duch should be acquitted, while French defence lawyer Francois Roux on Thursday said only that the court should consider Duch's expressions of remorse when sentencing.
  
The court has a panel of five judges, two of them foreign. They are expected to hand down a verdict early next year.
  
Prosecutors earlier said the judges must send a "clear message to the future" when they decide Duch's fate, saying Duch had failed to fully confess to his role in a regime that killed up to two million people.
  
"In respect of the victims, in respect of Cambodia's future, in respect of the principle of no peace without justice, I would ask that you remember the victims of S-21," international prosecutor Bill Smith told the judges.
  
"Allow your judgement to send a clear message to the future of Cambodia."
  
Giving his last arguments in rebuttal of defence speeches this week, Smith said that Duch had missed his last chance to fully confess to his crimes.
  
"We gave the accused that opportunity about two days ago to say to this court, to say to the people of Cambodia, 'Yes, I committed these crimes. I committed them willingly, I committed them because I believed in the (Khmer Rouge) and I'm sorry for that'," Smith said.
  
"But what he's done... he's had his international counsel say he was a small cog in a machine."
  
Tuol Sleng was at the heart of the Khmer Rouge security apparatus and inmates were taken from there during Duch's tenure for execution at nearby Choeung Ek, an orchard now known as the "Killing Fields".
  
Duch's defence have maintained he was not a leading figure in the regime and that the former maths teacher-turned-revolutionary acted out of fear for his own safety and that of his family.
  
Khmer Rouge leader Pol Pot died in 1998. The joint trial of four other more senior Khmer Rouge leaders is expected to start in 2011, while the court is considering whether to open cases against five other former Khmer Rouge cadres.

Date created : 2009-11-27

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