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Cambodia's Khmer Rouge Tribunal Holds First Public Hearing


The man accused of being the Khmer Rouge torture master has appeared before Cambodia's genocide court, in a long-awaited first official hearing on the deaths of nearly two million Cambodians during the 1970's. VOA's Heda Bayron reports from our Asia News Center in Hong Kong.

Kaing Guek Eav, who ran the notorious S-21 prison and torture center in Phnom Penh during Khmer Rouge rule, took the stand before the Khmer rouge genocide tribunal Tuesday to appeal for bail. Also known as Duch, he is charged with crimes against humanity.

This was the first formal hearing before the United Nations-backed tribunal, which has been years in preparation. Reach Sambath, court spokesman, said the hearing is a historical event for Cambodia.

"The hearing today marks an end of speculation that the court will never happen, and it is an answer to victims of the killing fields…that justice is coming," said Sambath.

Cambodians have waited more than three decades to see senior leaders of the communist Khmer Rouge, who ruled the country from 1975 to 1979, face trial.

During that period, cities were emptied, and people were forced to work on grandiose agricultural and infrastructure projects. Nearly two million people were killed, or died from starvation, hard labor and disease, in the Khmer Rouge's bid to create an agrarian utopia.

The hearing Tuesday was broadcast live on Cambodian television. Scores of people, including Khmer Rouge survivors, packed the courtroom and crowded outside the courthouse in Phnom Penh.

It has been estimated that 16,000 people were tortured and later executed in the S-21 prison, which is also known as Toul Sleng. Only 14 people who entered the prison are known to have survived.

Duch is one of five former Khmer Rouge leaders to be detained and charged since the U.N.-backed tribunal began its work last year.

On Monday, the tribunal arrested the ailing former head of state, Khieu Samphan. Shortly before that, former Foreign Minister Ieng Sary and his wife, Ieng Thirith, the former social affairs minister, were also arrested. The final defendant under arrest is Nuon Chea, who ranked second in the Khmer Rouge after Pol Pot.

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