By SOPHENG CHEANG,
Associated Press Writer Sopheng Cheang, Associated Press Writer
PHNOM PENH, Cambodia – Cambodia's genocide tribunal Thursday indicted the four top surviving leaders of the Khmer Rouge regime blamed for 1.7 million deaths in the 1970s, paving the way for the panel's long-awaited second trial next year.
The U.N.-assisted tribunal has said it expects to start the trial by the middle of next year against Nuon Chea, the group's ideologist; former head of state Khieu Samphan; former Foreign Minister Ieng Sary; and his wife Ieng Thirith, ex-minister for social affairs.
They each face four charges, including crimes against humanity, genocide, war crimes and a combined charge of murder, torture and religious persecution, co-investigating judge You Bunleng told a news conference.
The four have been interviewed by investigating judges 46 times since being detained at the tribunal in 2007, he said.
The group's chief jailer, Kaing Guek Eav, also known as Duch, was convicted this year of war crimes and crimes against humanity and will serve a 19-year sentence.
Duch (pronounced DOIK) was the first defendant to be tried. He supervised the notorious S-21 prison where as many as 16,000 people were tortured before being executed.
Also found guilty of torture and murder, Duch was originally sentenced to 35 years. Time served reduced the sentence 11 years, and he was compensated five years for illegal detention in a military prison.
The length of Duch's sentence was widely criticized as too short and prosecutors are appealing for a longer sentence, saying the judgment "gives insufficient weight to the gravity of Duch's crimes."
Duch has also filed his own appeal, seeking acquittal for what he says were legal errors made by the tribunal.
The judges presiding over Duch's case said they took into consideration the historical context of the Khmer Rouge atrocities: The 1975-79 regime was the product of the Cold War times.
They also recognized that Duch — unlike any of the others in detention — was not in the Khmer Rouge's inner circle, had cooperated with the court and shown expressions of remorse, however "limited."
But they flatly rejected Duch's claims that he merely was acting on orders from the top or that he was a "cog in the machine" who could not get out.