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A UNITED Nations backed war crimes tribunal is expected to issue a decision today in the trial of the Khmer Rouge’s chief jailer and torturer – the first verdict involving a leader of the genocidal regime that created Cambodia’s killing fields.
Kaing Guek Eav, better known as Duch, ran Toul Sleng, the secret detention centre reserved for “enemies” of the state.
During the 77-day trial, in which he asked for forgiveness, he admitted overseeing the deaths of up to 16,000 men, women and children. Though expected to be found guilty of war crimes and crimes against humanity, many in this still-traumatised nation are anxiously awaiting the sentence. Anything short of the maximum life behind bars could trigger an outrage.
“All I want before I die is to see justice served,” said Bo Men, 69, one of the few people sent to Toul Sleng who survived.
The UN-assisted tribunal represents the first serious attempt to hold Khmer Rouge leaders accountable for the deaths of an estimated 1.7 million Cambodians from starvation, medicalneglect, slave-like working conditions and execution. The group’s top leader, Pol Pot, died in 1998.
Only 14 prisoners are thought to have survived ordeals at the prison that included medieval-like tortures to extract “confessions” from supposed enemies of the regime, followed by executions and burials in mass graves outside Phnom Penh.
Duch – pronounced Doik – is the first of five surviving senior figures of the regime to go on trial.
Unlike the four other defendants, Duch was not among the ruling clique. He insisted during the trial that he was only following orders and on the final day he asked to be acquitted.
The former maths teacher joined Pol Pot’s movement in 1967.
Ten years later he wasthe trusted head of itsultimate killing machine, S-21, which became the code name for Toul Sleng.
Duch, who kept meticulous records, was oftenpresent during interrogations and signed off on all the executions.
After the Khmer Rouge was forced from power in 1979 after a bloody four-year reign, Duch disappeared for almost 20 years, living under various aliases in north-western Cambodia, where he had converted to Christianity.
His chance discovery by a British journalist led to his arrest in May 1999.
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