UN-backed court in Cambodia opens trial of three senior Khmer Rouge leaders
Hundreds of Cambodians have packed into a court on Monday in Phnom Penh to hear the UN-backed trial of three Khmer Rouge leaders which opened more than three decades after the era known as the ‘Killing Fields’. Nearly 4,000 victims are taking part in the legal process as civil parties.
Defendants "Brother Number Two" Nuon Chea, ex-head of state Khieu Samphan and former foreign minister Ieng Sary deny charges of genocide, war crimes and crimes against humanity over the deaths of up to two million people.
Regime survivors, monks and students were among those filling the public gallery, while parts of the long-awaited proceedings were due to be broadcast live on television.
Missing from the session was the fourth accused Ieng Thirith - the regime's "First Lady" and the only female leader to be charged by the court - after she was ruled unfit for trial last week because she has dementia.
Led by ‘Brother Number One’ Pol Pot, who died in 1998, the Khmer Rouge emptied cities, abolished money and religion and wiped out nearly a quarter of the population through starvation, overwork and execution in a bid to create an agrarian utopia.
Fears that not all of the accused, who are in their 80s and suffer from varying ailments, will not live to see a verdict, caused the court to recently split their complex case into a series of smaller trials.
Of the accused, only Khieu Samphan has indicated he will cooperate with the trial. Ieng Sary, who was frequently the only point of contact between the secretive communist regime and the outside world, said last month he did not intend to testify.
The case against the three is the court's second and most important after it sentenced former Khmer Rouge prison chief Duch to 30 years in jail last year for overseeing the deaths of 15,000 people. A ruling on the appeals in his case is expected on 3 February.