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Cambodia tribunal convicts Khmer Rouge leaders

Decades Later, Khmer Rouge Officials Get Life In Prison



BY TODD PITMAN AND SOPHENG CHEANG
ASSOCIATED PRESS

PHNOM PENH, Cambodia (AP) - They were leaders of Cambodia's infamous Khmer Rouge, the fanatical communist movement behind a 1970s reign of terror that transformed this entire Southeast Asian nation into a ruthless slave state - a place where cities were emptied of their inhabitants, religion and schools were banned, and anyone deemed a threat was executed.

When the nightmare ended, in 1979, close to 2 million people were dead - a quarter of Cambodia's population at the time.

On Thursday, a U.N.-backed tribunal convicted two of the once all-powerful men who ruled during that era of crimes against humanity in the first and possibly the last verdicts to be issued against the group's aging, top members.

Although survivors welcomed the decision to impose life sentences against Khieu Samphan, an 83-year-old former head of state, and Nuon Chea, the movement's 88-year-old chief ideologue, they also say justice has come far too late and is simply not adequate.

"Nothing can compare to the immense suffering they imposed, no sentence can be enough. They belong in hell, not an air-conditioned jail cell," said Youk Chhang, who heads The Documentation Center of Cambodia, which has collected more than a million documents related to the Khmer Rouge terror.

"But this gives us hope that we can learn from the past ... that we can try to prevent this from ever happening again."

There was no visible reaction from either of the accused when the decisions were announced. Nuon Chea, wearing dark sunglasses, was too weak even to stand from his wheelchair. Defense lawyers insisted the case was not over and vowed to appeal within 30 days.

Summarizing the verdict, chief judge Nil Nonn said the defendants were part of "a joint criminal enterprise" that launched "a widespread and systematic attack against the civilian population" after Khmer Rouge guerrillas seized Phnom Penh on April 17, 1975.

The attack took many forms, Nil Nonn said, including "murder, extermination, enforced disappearances, attacks against human dignity and political persecution."

The case, which lasted about two years, focused on just one of many mass killing sites and the forced exodus of millions of people from Cambodia's cities and towns, where even hospitals were emptied of patients.

Top Khmer Rouge leader Pol Pot had reset the clock to "Year Zero." Society was to be "purified." Money was abolished. Communal kitchens were introduced nationwide. The failed aim: to create an agrarian "utopia."

Most of those who died succumbed to starvation, medical neglect and overwork. Marked for death were the educated, religious or ethnic minorities, Buddhist monks, and anyone suspected of ties with the former government or who questioned the new rulers.



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Khieu Samphan acknowledged mass killings took place. But during the trial he claimed he was just a figurehead with no real authority. He called allegations that he ordered executions a "fairy tale."

Nuon Chea, known as Brother No. 2 because he was Pol Pot's trusted deputy, also denied responsibility, saying that Vietnamese forces - not the Khmer Rouge - had killed Cambodians en masse.

The hybrid tribunal, comprised of Cambodian and international jurists, began operations in 2006. It has been heavily criticized for spending too much - more than $200 million so far - and doing too little.

The court has convicted only one other defendant - prison director Kaing Guek Eav, who was sentenced to life imprisonment in 2011.

The current trial began in 2011 with four senior Khmer Rouge leaders; only two remain. Former Foreign Minister Ieng Sary died in 2013, while his wife, Social Affairs Minister Ieng Thirith, was deemed unfit to stand trial due to dementia in 2012.

The group's leader, Pol Pot, died in 1998 at the age of 73, evading a trial altogether.

Chea Leang, a co-prosecutor, said Thursday's judgment "will not turn back time, it won't give back life to those who were executed, or those who died of heat and exhaustion or lack of food or water or medical assistance.

"Yet I believe it will give some justice .... denied to them for so long," she said.

Survivors of the regime traveled from across the country to witness the historic day, filling several hundred seats available to the public at the tribunal. After the verdict was read, several former prisoners wept and hugged. Many said they felt mixed reactions.

"The crimes are huge, and just sentencing them to life in jail is not fair," said 54-year-old Chea Sophon, who spent years in hard labor camps building dams and working in rice fields. His brother was killed during the Khmer Rouge era.

"But what can I do?" he said. "Even if they die many times over, it would not be enough."

Another survivor, 58-year-old Khuth Vouern, said she felt a sense of relief that justice was finally served, even if it came generations late.

"I have been waiting for this day for many years," said the woman, whose husband and several other family members were killed during the Khmer Rouge's rule. "Now, for the first time, my mind feels at least some degree of peace."

Both Khieu Samphan and Nuon Chea will be tried by the same tribunal later this year again on separate charges of genocide. Because of the advanced age and poor health of the defendants, the case against them was divided into separate trials in an effort to render justice before they die.

Amnesty International called Thursday's verdict "a crucial step." But it also noted several "troubling" obstacles the tribunal has faced along the way - including the refusal of senior Cambodian government officials to give evidence and allegations of political interference.

It called for the remaining cases to be completed "in a timely and fair manner without political interference."

Investigators are looking into issuing indictments against mid-level Khmer Rouge officials - something the government has opposed.

Authoritarian Prime Minister Hun Sen's government is full of former Khmer Rouge higher-ups - himself included - and has little to gain from the trials.

___

Associated Press writers Jocelyn Gecker and Grant Peck in Bangkok, Thailand, contributed to this report.

Join the discussion

1000|Char. 1000  Char.
Genebo5 August 07 2014 at 3:30 AM

Two hundred million and thirty five years to convict two aged people. The U N is useless. Shut it down. A military court could have had a trial and sentance handed down within one year. A few bullets and it would be over. Save the tax dollars. Don't waste it on the U N or worthless scum.

Flag Reply +50 rate up
20 replies
Joe August 07 2014 at 3:23 AM

This is not justice. Until they put a rope around these people's necks, no matter what their age, and hang them dead, there will be no justice. Anyone associated with the Khmer Rouge killings needs to die for their crimes against humanity. There can be no compassion given to these savage killers of innocent people. Let them kick and suffocate on a short rope until the their miserable lives are ended. It's not enough, but it's better than showing mercy to people who've never embraced such a concept while killing innocent people. These savages killed intellectuals because they were educated. They deserve a slow, cruel death with public humiliation. It should be done with a public celebtration in a town square where people can come from far and wide and enjoy the spectacle. There should be music and celebration leading up to the executions. Let the condemned feel humanity's contempt for them. Tell them a few seconds before to expect the trap door to open. Show them no consideration.

Flag Reply +38 rate up
10 replies
dbaltes August 07 2014 at 4:42 AM

I agree with Joe. This is yet another example of political correctness run amok. These people were worse than the Nazis and deserve the death penalty.

Flag Reply +33 rate up
7 replies
GABRIEL August 07 2014 at 4:53 AM

Jane Fonda and her ilk supported the communists; they were just "Farmer Revolutionaries"....The true face of communism was convicted too late for so many victims...

Flag Reply +23 rate up
10 replies
ranger197172 August 07 2014 at 4:22 AM

Too little too late. They have already lived full lives. Life in prison means nothing to them now. Should have been a death sentence.

Flag Reply +23 rate up
1 reply
Michael Perugini ranger197172 August 07 2014 at 7:20 AM

There going to club Fed know!

Flag Reply 0 rate up
BIGDADDY JIM August 07 2014 at 5:05 AM

The joke is the UN waited this long. They are impotent and are laughable.

Flag Reply +18 rate up
2 replies
mclark2960 BIGDADDY JIM August 07 2014 at 10:44 AM

THE UN SITE IS A GREAT SPOT FOR CONDOS

Flag Reply 0 rate up
James Gray BIGDADDY JIM August 07 2014 at 11:19 AM

The United States and Israel are STILL looking for and prosecuting Nazi war criminals...and THAT war has been over for 60 years.

Is the United States and Israel impotent too?

Flag Reply 0 rate up
2 replies
James Zucco James Gray August 07 2014 at 12:03 PM

AT LEAST THE NAZIS WERE EXECUTED!! THE U N IS WORTHLESS!!

Flag 0 rate up
juststeve35 James Gray August 07 2014 at 12:12 PM

The WORLD COMMUNITY, not the US/Israel, are seeking Nazis they haven't CAUGHT yet.

Please try to have enough intelligence and integrity to educate yourself with enough facts to provide a valid comparison instead of your false comparatives.

smh

Dolt!

Flag 0 rate up
My Lord & Master August 07 2014 at 3:36 AM

Next up: George Bush, Dick Cheney, Benjamin Netanyahu, and Putin

Flag Reply +14 rate up
22 replies
Trisha August 07 2014 at 5:26 AM

Should have sent both convicts to America where they would be honored and given accolades of freebies on tax payer money by the Left after blasting the media with stories of how horribly they've been treated. Oh I know...wah wah blah bla Libs. Dont care what you think, this is the **** you people love to invite. Cant wait till its YOUR door they knock on.

Flag Reply +12 rate up
8 replies
wjs27skeet August 07 2014 at 6:06 AM

Nuon Chea "I don't want them to believe the Khmer Rouge are bad people." YEAH, blame it on someone else. Well America, you're headed in the same direction as Cambodia, with this lawless Marxist President we have in office now. ref: http://www.wnd.com/2013/11/is-obama-leading-america-into-communism/

Flag Reply +8 rate up
2 replies
dgould497 wjs27skeet August 07 2014 at 11:00 AM

Really? Who, pray tell has President Obama committed genocide upon? Don'y open your mouth if you don't have something to say with evidence to back it up. It displays to the whole world what an idiot you are. Obama is so far from Marxist that they aren't even comparable. And don't bother with Facist either. Doesn't fit. Go back to school and study your Social Studies for the different types of government.

Flag Reply 0 rate up
dfnaturesglen wjs27skeet August 07 2014 at 12:22 PM

Idiotic 'opinion.'

Flag Reply 0 rate up
Buckingham's August 07 2014 at 2:54 AM

Here's wishing them a very LONG, miserable life in prison.

Flag Reply +7 rate up
2 replies
ranger197172 Buckingham's August 07 2014 at 4:24 AM

I doubt either will last another five years.

Flag Reply +1 rate up
zweepz Buckingham's August 07 2014 at 8:33 AM

The problem is they're in their late 80's. So, how did that mass murdering spree work for them? Pretty well, it seems.

Flag Reply +1 rate up
1 reply
James Gray zweepz August 07 2014 at 11:35 AM

The idea is to show that no matter how long it takes, or how old you are, justice will find you. The United States and Israel are STILL hunting for Nazi War criminals....and that war has been over for more than 60 years.

I doubt if any they find will be spring chickens.

Bin Laden was no "young man" when those special forces finally hunted him down and gave him a bath 20 fathoms deep.

The world is happy when a criminal is brought to justice....stop throwing a bucket of water on that happiness.

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