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Torturer on trial over Cambodian atrocities

THE chief Khmer Rouge torturer, who has asked forgiveness from his victims, faced trial for crimes against humanity yesterday, the first involving a senior Pol Pot cadre 30 years after the end of a regime blamed for 1.7 million deaths.

After years of delays and procedural wrangling, prosecutors for the joint United Nations-Cambodian tribunal will lay out their case against Duch, whose real name is Kaing Guek Eav, former chief of the S-21 prison where 14,000 "enemies" of the 1975-79 revolution were tortured and killed.

"I never thought that this day would come," said 64-year-old Svay Simon, one of hundreds of Khmer Rouge victims gathered at the specially built court on the outskirts of Phnom Penh.

Duch's trial, which formally began with procedural hearings last month, marks a turning-point for the strife-torn country, where nearly every family lost someone during the Khmer Rouge era, one of the darkest chapters of the 20th century.

Duch now faces charges alleging crimes against humanity, war crimes, torture and homicide.

The silver-haired former school teacher is the first of five aging senior cadres charged for their role in Pol Pot's "Year Zero" revolution to achieve an agrarian utopia.

He is expected to be a key witness in the future trials of "Brother Number Two" Nuon Chea, the regime's ex-president Khieu Samphan and Ieng Sary, its foreign minister, and his wife.

The four others have denied knowledge of any atrocities by the Khmer Rouge during its rule, which began by driving everyone out of the cities with whatever they could carry.

There is no death penalty in Cambodia and the five could get life sentences if convicted by the panel of five Cambodian and international judges.

Survivors, former guards and Khmer Rouge experts are expected to testify against Duch, a born-again Christian who has asked forgiveness for the S-21 victims, who included women and children.


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