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Life sentence sought for senior Khmer leaders

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Former Khmer Rouge leaders Khieu Samphan (left) and Nuon Chea in this file photo.— PHOTO: AP
Former Khmer Rouge leaders Khieu Samphan (left) and Nuon Chea in this file photo.— PHOTO: AP

Prosecutors demanded life imprisonment on Monday for two former leaders of Cambodia’s Khmer Rouge accused of crimes against humanity, delighting survivors hoping for long-awaited justice for the “Killing Fields” atrocities.

“Brother Number Two” Nuon Chea (87), and ex-head of state Khieu Samphan (82) are accused of playing a leading role in the communist regime’s reign of terror in the late 1970s that left up to two million people dead.

Prosecutor Chea Leang said life in prison was “the only punishment that they deserve”.

Led by Pol Pot, who died in 1998, the communist regime wiped out a quarter of Cambodia’s population through starvation, overwork and execution between 1975-79 in a bid to forge an agrarian utopia.

Cambodians who survived its brutality welcomed the plea for the harshest possible sentence. The kingdom does not use the death penalty.

The two defendants, the most senior surviving Khmer Rouge cadres, were both in court to hear the requested sentence. They deny the accusations, saying they were not aware of the atrocities committed under the regime — a claim rejected by prosecutors.

The kingdom’s U.N.-backed court is moving closer to a verdict in the complex trial, which has been split into a series of smaller trials. The first trial, which began hearing evidence in late 2011, has focused on the forced evacuation of people into rural labour camps and the related charges of crimes against humanity.

Closing statements are scheduled to be completed by the end of the month, with a verdict expected in the first half of next year.

Other charges of genocide and war crimes are due to be heard later though no date has yet been set.

Another defendant, former foreign minister Ieng Sary, died aged 87 in March this year, while the case against his wife Ieng Thirith — also an ex-minister — was suspended after the court ruled dementia left her unfit to stand trial.

In its historic first trial, the court in 2010 sentenced former prison chief Kaing Guek Eav to 30 years in prison — later increased to life on appeal . — AFP


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