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May 30, 2017

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Court jails Khmer Rouge leaders for life

"Brother Number Two" Nuon Chea, 88, and former head of state Khieu Samphan, 83 -- the most senior surviving Khmer Rouge leaders -- betrayed no emotion in the dock, but regime survivors outside the court wept and applauded as the sentences were handed down.

Judge Nil Nonn said the pair were "guilty of the crimes against humanity, of extermination... political persecution, and other inhumane acts."

Their lawyers said they would appeal the verdict, but the judge said the gravity of the crimes meant they "shall remain in detention until this judgment becomes final".

"It is unjust for my client. He did not know or commit many of these crimes," Son Arun, a lawyer for Nuon Chea, told reporters.

Prosecutors had sought the maximum life terms for the defendants, who played key roles in a regime which left up to two million people dead during the "Killing Fields" era from 1975-1979.

Nuon Chea, wearing his trademark sunglasses, sat in a wheelchair in the dock as the verdict was read, while Khieu Samphan stood next to him.

Justice at last

The ruling, which follows a two-year trial, is likely to bring a level of relief to those who survived the Khmer Rouge years, which saw a quarter of Cambodia's population killed or die from starvation and overwork.

"This is the justice that I have been waiting for these last 35 years," said 70-year-old survivor Khieu Pheatarak, one of a few dozen survivors at the Phnom Penh-based court to hear the verdict.

"I will never forget the suffering but this is a great relief for me. It is a victory and an historic day for all Cambodians," she said.

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