Cambodia opens first 'Killing Fields' Trial
PHNOM PENH (AFP) – The torturer-in-chief of Cambodia's brutal Khmer
Rouge regime went before a UN-backed genocide tribunal on Tuesday for
the long-awaited first trial over the "Killing Fields" atrocities of the 1970s.
Former maths teacher Kaing Guek Eav -- better known as Duch -- sat
glumly in the dock to face charges that he ran the main prison centre
for the hardline communist regime, which killed up to two million
"This first hearing represents the realisation of significant efforts
in establishing a fair and independent tribunal to try those in senior
leadership positions," chief judge Nil Nonn said at the opening of the
Duch, 66, wore a blue shirt and listened through earphones as the
court held its initial hearing behind a huge bullet-proof screen,
designed to prevent revenge attacks by victims of the notorious Tuol
For Cambodians the controversial tribunal, established in 2006 after
nearly a decade of negotiations between Cambodia and the United
Nations, is seen as the last chance to bring the Khmer Rouge's leaders
"I prayed for dawn as soon as possible so that I could see this trial
start," artist Vann Nath, one of only about a dozen survivors from the
prison, said outside the court on the outskirts of Phnom Penh.
Duch was indicted last year for allegedly personally overseeing the
torture and extermination of more than 15,000 men, women and children
when he headed Tuol Sleng, built in a former high school.
Now a born-again Christian, he is charged with crimes against
humanity, war crimes, torture and premeditated murder and faces a
sentence of life in prison from the tribunal. It does not have the
power to impose the death penalty.
Duch was transported in an armoured Land Cruiser with blacked-out
windows from the nearby villa where he is being held with four top
Khmer Rouge leaders, who all face trial later this year.
His first hearing is expected to last less than three days as it
involves procedural matters.
Defence lawyer Francois Roux told the court that Duch had been held
without trial for more than nine years, branding it "unacceptable."
Duch was arrested in 1999 when a journalist found him working as a
Christian aid worker in the jungle, and was formally transferred to
the tribunal in July 2007.
He has previously expressed regret for his crimes but has said that he
was acting under orders from top Khmer Rouge leaders.
Led by "Brother Number One" Pol Pot, the Khmer Rouge was responsible
for one of the worst horrors of the 20th century, wiping out nearly a
quarter of the population through starvation, overwork and execution.
Rising to power as a tragic spin-off from the US conflict in Vietnam,
the movement emptied Cambodia's cities to take society back to a rural
"Year Zero," purging city dwellers, intellectuals and even people who
Tuol Sleng was used to extract false confessions from alleged traitors
and thousands of inmates were taken from there during Duch's tenure
for execution at nearby Choeung Ek, an orchard now known as the
The Khmer Rouge was ousted by Vietnamese-backed forces after a reign
of terror lasting three years, eight months and 20 days. Pol Pot died
The tribunal has been delayed by legal arguments and bail hearings,
and has faced controversy over allegations of political interference
by the government over the prosecution of further suspects.
But joint investigating judge Marcel Lemonde insisted it was crucial
for Cambodia's healing, telling AFP it was an "opportunity to decide
not just individual responsibility but also organise a public debate."