The UN-backed court for war crimes in Cambodia has for the first time issued genocide charges against two leaders of the brutal Khmer Rouge regime, Nuon Chea and Ieng Sary, over the slaughter of Vietnamese people and ethnic Cham Muslims in the 1970s.
AFP - Cambodia's UN-backed war crimes court has for the first time issued genocide charges against two leaders of the brutal Khmer Rouge regime, a tribunal spokesman said Wednesday.
Former Khmer Rouge number two Nuon Chea and foreign minister Ieng Sary were both charged over the hardline communist regime's slaughter of Vietnamese people and ethnic Cham Muslims during the 1970s, spokesman Lars Olsen told AFP.
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"This week both Nuon Chea and Ieng Sary have been brought before the investigating judges and informed they are being charged with genocide against the Cham Muslims and the Vietnamese," Olsen said.
"This is the first time that anyone has been charged with genocide" at the UN-backed tribunal, he added.
Estimates for the number of Chams who died under the Khmer Rouge range from 100,000 to 400,000, but it is not known how many Vietnamese were killed, according to Youk Chhang, director of the Documentation Centre of Cambodia.
The Khmer Rouge murdered up to two million Cambodians between 1975 and 1979 in their blood-soaked drive to establish a communist utopia. But the mass killing does not class as genocide, Olsen said.
"It is impossible to say it was an intent to destroy the Khmers. The perpetrators were of the same nationalities as the victims," he said.
The United Nations defines genocide as "acts committed with intent to destroy, in whole or in part, a national, ethnical, racial or religious group".
The court said last month that it was investigating Khmer Rouge incursions into Vietnam as well as executions of Vietnamese and Cham minorities within Cambodia.
Cham Muslims, who live mainly in central provinces, form 1.6 percent of the population in the predominantly Buddhist country today.
Final arguments were heard last month in the case of regime prison chief Kaing Guek Eav, better known as Duch, who was charged with war crimes, crimes against humanity, torture and premeditated murder in the court's first trial.
The verdict is expected early in 2010.
Both Nuon Chea and Ieng Sary have already been charged with war crimes and crimes against humanity.
They are in detention at the court, awaiting trial in the tribunal's second case along with Ieng Sary's wife, former social affairs minister Ieng Thirith and former head of state Khieu Samphan.
Led by Pol Pot, who died in 1998, the Khmer Rouge emptied Cambodia's cities and wiped out nearly a quarter of the population through starvation, overwork, torture and execution.
The tribunal, created in 2006 after several years of haggling between Cambodia and the UN, has faced accusations of political interference and allegations that local staff were forced to pay kickbacks for their jobs.
Cambodian and international prosecutors have openly disagreed whether the court should pursue more suspects, while the Cambodian investigating judge has refused to summon high-ranking government officials as witnesses.
Date created : 2009-12-16