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Cambodians Welcome Trial of Former Khmer Rouge Jailer


The long-awaited trial of a former Khmer Rouge prison chief has opened in Cambodia. The trial has been welcomed by Cambodians as a step towards justice.

After 30 years and nearly two million people killed, Cambodians are finally seeing the Khmer Rouge brought to trial.

The first of five former Khmer Rouge leaders has been taken to a U.N.-backed war crimes tribunal in Phnom Penh.

Kaing Guek Eav, better known as Duch, is being charged with crimes against humanity from his time as head of the S-21 detention center.

More than 12,000 Cambodians were tortured and killed at the center under Duch's supervision.

Cambodians lined up early to get into the courtroom where hundreds packed in to witness the proceedings.

Theary Seng is a survivor of the Khmer Rouge period and, along with dozens of other Cambodians, has filed a civil suit against Duch.

"It is incredible that after many years of waiting, after the politics, after the accumulated emotions, and vacillating emotions to actually be here, standing here, and witnessing the first day of the trial for Duch and this day will set the momentum," Seng said. "It will start the wheel of justice turning."

Tuesday's hearing is the procedural part of the trial and is expected to last only a couple days. The presentation of evidence and witnesses are not expected until March.

If found guilty, Duch could face up to life in prison.

At age 66, Duch is the youngest and lowest ranking of the former Khmer Rouge leaders now facing trial, and the only one to have confessed his crimes.

Nature may allow the higher-ranking and older Khmer Rouge leaders to escape justice if they are not brought to trial soon.

Political interference is also a concern. A Cambodian prosecutor at the tribunal objected to any further prosecutions, a view that mirrored that of Cambodia's Prime Minister Hun Sen.

Mr. Hun Sen and many other Cambodian officials are themselves former Khmer Rouge members and some may fear being connected too closely to prosecutions.

The Communist Khmer Rouge ruled over Cambodia from 1975 to 1979. Under their fanatical leader, Pol Pot, they tortured and killed anyone accused of disloyalty. Many more were worked and starved to death.

The Khmer Rouge era ended when Vietnam invaded and scattered them to the Thai border. Remnants of the Khmer Rouge fought from the jungle for more than a decade before they disbanded and some disappeared.

A foreign journalist found Duch in 1999 working in a refugee camp under a false name. He was later arrested.


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