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Trial of Khmer officer begins

February 17, 2009|Associated Press

PHNOM PENH, CAMBODIA — A notorious torture center boss went before a genocide tribunal today for its first trial over the deaths of more than 1 million people at the hands of the Khmer Rouge regime more than three decades ago.

Kang Kek Ieu, referred to as Kaing Geuk Eav in tribunal filings and better known as Duch, headed the S-21 prison in Phnom Penh. He is charged with crimes against humanity and is the first of five defendants scheduled for long-delayed trials by the U.N.-assisted tribunal. The hearing was for procedural matters and testimony was expected to begin in late March.

Duch, 66, was driven to the courtroom in a bulletproof car.

He is accused of committing or abetting crimes including murder, torture and rape at S-21, a former school where up to 16,000 men, women and children were held and tortured before being put to death.

He has not formally confessed. However, unlike the other four defendants, Duch "admitted or acknowledged" that many of the crimes occurred at his prison, according to the indictment.

The trial comes 30 years after the fall of the Khmer Rouge and nearly three years after the court was inaugurated.

The tribunal has been plagued by political interference from the Cambodian government, allegations of bias and corruption, lack of funding, and bickering between Cambodian and international lawyers.

Some say Prime Minister Hun Sen, an ex-Khmer Rouge officer, is directing decisions.

Others facing trial are Khieu Samphan, the group's former head of state; Ieng Sary, its foreign minister; his wife Ieng Thirith, minister for social affairs; and Nuon Chea, the movement's chief ideologue.

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