Cambodia Khmer Rouge trials could begin
PHNOM PENH September 2009
The trial of five aging Khmer Rouge leaders might begin in September. The charges of crimes against humanity and war crimes relate to the deaths and suffering of millions of Cambodians under the Khmer Rouge in the 1970s. After almost a decade strongman Prime Minister Hun Sen and the United Nations are still wrangling about the scope of and funding for the hybrid Cambodian-UN tribunal. The approach of the 30th anniversary of the end of the regime, in Jan 2009, could function as pressure on the negotiations.
The first defendant to appear is expected to be Kaing Guek Eav, 65, alias Duch, who headed the notorious S-21 prison and torture center, according to a UN spokeswoman. The others are former top lieutenants of late Khmer Rouge leader Pol Pot, who died in 1998: former head of state Khieu Samphan; former chief ideologist Nuon Chea; ex-Foreign Minister Ieng Sary, and his wife Ieng Thirith, who served as the Khmer Rouge social affairs minister.
Some two-thirds of the tribunal's budgeted three-year mandate have passed since it was set up in Aug 2006, and the delays are widely seen as foot-dragging by Hun Sen, who was a member of the Khmer Rouge as a very young man.
The Khmer Rouge "liberated" Phnom Penh on 17 Apr 1975. Forcing the population out of cities, it tried to establish an agrarian state and killed an estimated 1.7 million people through starvation, disease or execution in the process. Survivors were traumatized in ways that still haunt this country.
Hundreds of people have applied for official recognition as Khmer Rouge victims and to bring parallel civil cases against the five. Regime leader Pol Pot escaped justice by dying before he could be brought to trial. As civil parties, the victims will have standing comparable to those of the accused, including the rights to participate in the investigation, to be represented by a lawyer, to call witnesses and to question the accused at trial.
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