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Khmer Rouge Victims Express Sadness Following Death of Top Leader

Victims of Cambodia's Khmer Rouge are expressing disappointment that one of the movement's top leaders has died before his genocide and war crimes trial could finish.

Eighty-seven-year-old Ieng Sary died Thursday at a hospital in Phnom Penh from what his lawyers say are gastrointestinal problems. He was one of just three elderly Khmer Rouge leaders on trial for the deaths of as many as two million Cambodians in the 1970s.

His death confirmed the fears of many survivors of the ultra-maoist revolution who have become increasingly pessimistic that those responsible will ever be brought to justice.

Khmer Rouge victim Yi Chea could not hold back tears when she heard the news.

"I am happy to hear that Ieng Sary died, because he was the mastermind of the murders under the Khmer Rouge regime. Under his regime, my husband, children and relatives were killed."

Another victim, street vendor Yim Sopheak, says she regrets that Ieng Sary was not given the death penalty.

"I am absolutely not sorry to hear about his death at all. I only wish he had died in prison," he said. "He should have died the same way as he executed my parents and other people."

Lars Olsen, a spokesperson for the U.N.-backed tribunal hearing the case, said he realizes many will be disappointed that the proceedings against Ieng Sary cannot continue.

"It is however very important to remember that case 002 is not over with this. The charges against Khieu Samphan and Nuon Chea still stand and are not affected by Ieng Sary's death."

Ex-president Khieu Samphan and propaganda chief Nuon Chea - both in their 80s - are the only Khmer Rouge leaders left standing trial for the atrocities committed by the movement that is blamed for the death of nearly a quarter of Cambodia's population.

Ou Virak, a victim of the Khmer Rouge regime and head of the Cambodian Center for Human Rights, said Ieng Sary's death should serve as a "wake-up call" that these cases need to be "expedited urgently." He said in a statement that if all three men die before their guilt or innocence can be determined, the Cambodian people "will quite understandably feel robbed of justice."

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