Cambodian war crimes tribunal to hand down 1st verdict in trial of Khmer Rouge’s chief jailer

Sunday, July 25, 2010

Cambodia’s war crimes tribunal hands down verdict

PHNOM PENH, Cambodia — A U.N.-backed war crimes tribunal hands down a verdict Monday in the first trial of a senior member of the Khmer Rouge regime that turned Cambodia into a vast killing field three decades ago.

The defendant, Kaing Guek Eav, better known as Duch, ran the notorious Toul Sleng detention center reserved for “enemies” of the state. He admitted overseeing the deaths of up to 16,000 men, women and children who passed through its gates and asked for forgiveness during his 77-day trial.

Duch is widely expected to be found guilty of war crimes and crimes against humanity, but many people in this still-traumatized nation are anxiously awaiting the sentence. Anything short of the maximum life behind bars could trigger public outrage.

Riot police lined up outside the court on the outskirts of the capital as hundreds of villagers — all of whom lost family members during the Khmer Rouge’s 1975-79 reign of terror — started arriving by the bus load.

An estimated 1.7 million Cambodians died from starvation, medical neglect, slave-like working conditions and execution under the Maoist regime that sought to turn the country into an agrarian utopia. Their bodies were dumped in shallow mass graves that still dot the countryside.

The group’s top leader, Pol Pot, died in 1998 and four other top members of the Khmer Rouge are awaiting trial.

Unlike the other defendants, Duch (pronounced DOIK) was not among the ruling clique and is the only major figure of the regime to have expressed remorse, even offering at one point to face a public stoning.

His surprise request on the final day to be acquitted and freed, however, left many wondering if his contrition was sincere. Some worry he will get off lightly.

Prosecutors asked that he face 40 years in prison, but because the 67-year-old has mitigated with the court and already spent 11 years in detention, there is a chance he’ll get less than that.


U.N.-backed war crimes tribunal:

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