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Khmer Rouge's Brother Number 2 Back in Court in Cambodia


The Khmer Rouge's former second-in-command, Nuon Chea, has been back in court, facing charges of crimes against humanity and other offenses committed during the communist rule of Cambodia 30 years ago. Nuon Chea has asked to be released on bail because of poor health and legal questions surrounding his arrest. Rory Byrne reports from Phnom Penh.

This was Nuon Chea's second appearance in court in just three days. His first bail hearing was cut short over a dispute concerning the legal status of one of his two foreign defense lawyers.

That problem was quickly resolved and Nuon Chea was in court Thursday accompanied by both his foreign and Cambodian lawyers.

Known as Brother Number 2 Nuon Chea is believed to have been the chief ideologue of the secretive Khmer Rouge and right-hand man to leader Pol Pot, who died in 1998. Almost two million Cambodians died under the Khmer Rouge's rule from starvation, overwork and execution.

Appearing upbeat and alert, the 81-year-old listened intently to the proceedings through a set of earphones and conferred regularly with his lawyers.

Peter Foster is the spokesman for the United Nations' tribunal staff. He says the speed with which Nuon Chea's bail hearing was rescheduled shows the determination of court officials to push the tribunal process forward.

"The hearing was recalled the very next day - actually with less than 24 hours notice," Foster said. "I think that shows that the court, and the government of Cambodia, and everybody involved in the process, does not want to see any delay whatsoever and I think it bodes very well for the future of the process."

Nuon Chea's lawyers asked for bail because of his poor health and what they say were technical mistakes made during his arrest. They also argue that he was not fully informed of his rights when he agreed to speak with tribunal authorities after his arrest without his lawyer present.

The prosecutors argue that freeing him could pose a threat to public order.

A decision on the bail application is not expected for about a week and Noun Chea will remain in his prison cell.

He is the second former Khmer Rouge leader to appear in court so far. Cases against at least four other prominent leaders are being prepared.

The creation of the joint United Nations-Cambodian tribunal was delayed for years because of funding and wrangling over legal issues.

As a result, many Khmer Rouge officials have long since died. Some of their victims fear none of the Khmer Rouge will ever be brought to justice for the abuses that occurred when the group tried to impose an extreme form of agrarian society on the country.

Foster, the U.N. spokesman, also said Thursday that the tribunal has asked for new donations of $114 million, on top of the $56 million already donated for the court. The additional money would allow the tribunal to operate until 2011.

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