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Khmer Rouge trial prosecutors seek long term for Duch

PHNOM PENH -- Prosecutors urged judges at Cambodia's war crimes court Tuesday to hand a lengthy jail term to the former prison chief of the Khmer Rouge regime for his role in the “Killing Fields” atrocities.

Duch — whose real name is Kaing Guek Eav — has apologized repeatedly and admitted responsibility for his actions under the blood-soaked communist movement, which killed up to two million people in the 1970s.

But prosecutors giving their final arguments to the U.N.-backed tribunal after a nine-month trial said Duch “was the personification of ruthless efficiency” and the “perfect candidate” to run the regime's principal torture center.

“It does not matter that others may not admit their guilt or fail to cooperate with authorities,” prosecutor Chea Leang told the court. “It is simply inconceivable that anything other than a lengthy sentence of imprisonment should be imposed on him.”

She said Duch held a unique, central role in the Khmer Rouge security apparatus and called on judges to reject defense suggestions he was a scapegoat for a regime which had a network of some 200 prisons across Cambodia.

The former math teacher, 67, faces a maximum life sentence as the tribunal does not have the power to impose the death penalty. A verdict is expected in March next year.

Since proceedings began in February, Duch has begged forgiveness for overseeing the murders of around 15,000 men, women and children at the S-21 or Tuol Sleng prison, a former high school in the capital Phnom Penh.

He has argued that he was not a leading figure in the 1975-1979 regime and that he acted out of fear for his own safety and that of his family.

Duch has been detained since 1999, when he was found working as a Christian aid worker in the jungle, and was formally arrested by the tribunal in July 2007.

The court was established in 2006 to try leading members of the regime on charges of war crimes and crimes against humanity. This is its first trial.

A Tuesday report by a court monitor, however, said the troubled tribunal risked losing credibility unless it addressed accusations of government interference and allegations that local staff paid kickbacks for their jobs.

The process has often been hit by allegations that Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen's administration has attempted to interfere in the tribunal to protect former regime members who are now in government.

The Khmer Rouge continued to be recognized as the government of Cambodia at the United Nations until 1991, largely due to support from Western countries and China that did not want a Vietnamese-backed government in power.

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.

Pol Pot died in 1998. The joint trial of four other more senior Khmer Rouge leaders is expected to start in 2011, while the court is considering whether to open cases against five other former Khmer Rouge cadres.

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