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Asia-pacific

Verdict awaited in historic Khmer Rouge trial

Video by FRANCE 24

Text by News Wires

Latest update : 2010-07-26

A UN war crimes tribunal is expected to issue a verdict Monday in the case of Kaing Guek Eav, known as Duch, a former Khmer Rouge leader who oversaw the mass executions of some 15,000 people between 1975 and 1979 at the Tuol Slang prison.

REUTERS - A senior member of the murderous Khmer Rouge “Killing Fields” regime will hear his fate on Monday when a U.N.-backed court delivers its first verdict three decades after the Maoist revolution tore Cambodia apart.

The sentencing of Kaing Guek Eav, better known as Duch, is seen as a critical test for a multimillion dollar tribunal that has struggled to end decades of silence on the darkest chapter of Cambodia’s modern history.

He is charged with murder and torture, war crimes and crimes against humanity as commander of Tuol Sleng prison, a converted high school, also known as S-21, that symbolised the horrors of the ultra-communist regime blamed for 1.7 million deaths in 1975-79.

Thousands have huddled around televisions in cafes and homes to watch live broadcasts of the eight-month trial of the former schoolteacher who admitted to overseeing the torture and killing of more than 14,000 people in the prison, where few survived.

Cambodia has no death penalty and prosecutors are seeking a 40-year sentence, equivalent to life behind bars for 67-year-old Duch. For Cambodians, the verdict offers a chance for closure.

“We want Duch to go to prison for life because it was genocide he committed,” said villager Chuob Khom, 53, whose parents were killed in Duch’s torture centre in Phnom Penh.

“If he doesn’t get life, we will all still hold grudges about what happened,” he said.

A lighter sentence would be a major blow in a country where almost every family has been affected by a period when almost a quarter of the population died from starvation, disease, exhaust ion, or by torture and execution under the Khmer Rouge.

Prosecutors urged the tribunal’s five-judge panel to reject Duch’s assertion he had little choice but to carry out orders.

Now a born-again Christian, Duch has expressed “excruciating remorse” for the S-21 victims, most of them tortured and forced to confess to spying and other crimes before they were bludgeoned at the “Killing Fields” execution sites during the agrarian revolution, which ended with a 1979 invasion by Vietnam.

Complex cases

The verdict will be broadcast live on national television. Some hope that by shedding light on a taboo subject it will uncover the mysteries of the Khmer Rouge’s motives and finally give the impoverished nation a chance to move forward.

Justice, however, is likely to remain elusive.

Duch’s case is clear-cut and only the start. More controversy awaits Cambodia when, or if, the other four senior Khmer Rouge cadres indicted by the court are finally tried on war crimes and genocide charges relating to the “Killing Fields”.

The cases of former President Khieu Samphan, “Brother Number Two” Nuon Chea, ex-Foreign Minister Ieng Sary and his wife, Ieng Thirith are highly complex and politicised. Many fear the cases may never go to trial, or the defendants might die before they see a courtroom.

Standing in the way of justice, analysts say, is not just the excessive bureaucracy and a drawn-out legal process, but a powerful single-party government that has never fully backed the tribunal and has some historical ties to the Khmer Rouge.

Many former Khmer Rouge members are now part of Cambodia’s civil service and occupy top positions in provincial and central government and experts say they are keen to curtail the court’s progress and limit the scope of future investigations.

Long-serving Prime Minister Hun Sen is himself a former Khmer Rouge foot soldier who says he defected to eventual conquerers Vietnam. He has warned of another civil war if the court expands its probes into the horrors of Pol Pot’s “year zero” revolution.

Finance Minister Keat Chhon has also admitted his involvement as an interpreter for Pol Pot, while Foreign Minister Hor Namhong has been accused of having Khmer Rouge connections and heading a detention centre. He denies the claims.

Date created : 2010-07-25

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