Khmer Rouge boss faces 40 years' jail

Prosecutors have asked a Cambodia war crimes court to jail former Khmer Rouge prison and torture chief Duch for 40 years.

Prosecutors have asked Cambodia's war crimes court to hand a 40-year jail term to former Khmer Rouge prison chief Duch, accused of overseeing 15,000 deaths at the regime's main torture centre.

The former cadre, whose real name is Kaing Guek Eav, was set to give his final remarks later Wednesday in which he is expected to beg forgiveness for his role in the communist movement behind the "Killing Fields" atrocities.

But lawyers for the prosecution said the previous expressions of remorse by the 67-year-old former maths teacher were limited and did not amount to a full guilty plea before the UN-backed tribunal.

"We submit... that the sentence to be submitted by this trial chamber should be 40 years in prison," prosecutor Bill Smith told judges in the prosecution's final arguments.

Smith said an appropriate sentence for Duch would be 45 years in prison but that should be reduced by five years for his general cooperation, limited acceptance of responsibility and expressions of remorse.

"No one should make the mistake that this case is equal to an unqualified guilty plea before an international tribunal," Smith said.

Duch is charged with crimes against humanity, war crimes, torture and premeditated murder, and faces a maximum term of life in prison by the tribunal, which does not have the power to impose the death penalty.

The Khmer Rouge rose to power in 1975 and under leader Pol Pot wiped out nearly two million Cambodians through starvation, overwork and execution, before they were toppled by Vietnamese backed forces in 1979.

Emerging as a tragic spin-off of the US conflict in Vietnam, the movement emptied Cambodia's cities to take society back to a rural "Year Zero", purging city dwellers, intellectuals and even people who wore glasses.

For Cambodians the controversial tribunal, established in 2006 after nearly a decade of negotiations between Cambodia and the United Nations, is the last chance to find justice for the Khmer Rouge's crimes.

A verdict is expected early next year in Duch's trial -- which began in February and is the first to be held by the court.

Duch is expected to apologise again Wednesday as his defence bids to lessen his sentence, however prosecution and civil party lawyers have this week rejected his accounts of the past and called for a harsher decision.

"Duch is expected to speak and what we're told is he's expected to speak one or two hours," said court spokesman Lars Olsen.

As before, Duch sat Wednesday with judges, lawyers and witnesses behind a massive bulletproof screen to prevent possible revenge attacks.

Hundreds of Cambodians attended the specially built courtroom on the outskirts of Phnom Penh, while this week's proceedings are being broadcast live by all Cambodian television stations.

Tuol Sleng prison, a former high school, was at the heart of the Khmer Rouge security apparatus, forcing inmates to give false confessions that they had betrayed the regime or worked for foreign intelligence services.

Only around a dozen people are known to have survived, with most of the rest of the 15,000 men, women and children who passed through its doors taken for execution at nearby Choeung Ek, an orchard now known as the "Killing Fields".

It is now a genocide museum.

Duch has been detained since 1999, when he was found working as a Christian aid worker in the jungle, and was formally arrested by the tribunal in July 2007.

The court has faced controversy over allegations of interference by the government of Prime Minister Hun Sen and claims that Cambodian staff paid kickbacks for their jobs.

The joint trial of four other more senior Khmer Rouge leaders is expected to start in 2011 and the court is also investigating whether to open more cases against five other former Khmer Rouge cadres.

"This has been a very, very tough and arduous journey over the last 15 or so months, and it's a massive weight lifted off our shoulders."

Source AFP

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