PHNOM PENH (Reuters) – A U.N.-backed tribunal sentenced a senior member of the Khmer Rouge to 35 years in prison on Monday in its first verdict three decades after the Maoist "Killing Fields" revolution tore Cambodia apart.
Kaing Guek Eav, known as Duch, was found guilty of murder and torture, and crimes against humanity for running Tuol Sleng prison, a converted school that symbolized the horrors of the ultra-communist regime blamed for 1.7 million deaths in 1975-79.
The 67-year-old the former schoolteacher will only serve 30 years of his sentence because the court ruled he was held illegally for five years by the Cambodian military.
The verdict was short of the maximum 40 years sought by the prosecution and of the life behind bars demanded by many Cambodians who have struggled to find closure for one of the darkest chapters of the 20th century.
Duch admitted to overseeing the torture and killing of more than 14,000 people in his prison, also known as S-21 but said he was only carrying out orders. His case is the first heard by the joint U.N.-Cambodian court set up to prosecute the Khmer Rouge.
It 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.
Thousands huddled around televisions in cafes and homes to watch live broadcasts of the verdict.
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.