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Khmer Rouge trial opens in Cambodia

A notorious torture center boss went before Cambodia's genocide tribunal for its first trial over the deaths of an estimated 1.7 million people at the hands of the Khmer Rouge regime more than three decades ago.

world Updated: Feb 17, 2009 23:12 IST

A notorious torture center boss went before Cambodia's genocide tribunal on Tuesday for its first trial over the deaths of an estimated 1.7 million people at the hands of the Khmer Rouge regime more than three decades ago.

Kaing Guek Eav — better known as Duch, who headed the S-21 prison in Phnom Penh — is charged with crimes against humanity and is the first of five defendants scheduled for long-delayed trials by the UN-assisted tribunal.

The hearing on Tuesday was procedural, and testimony was expected to begin only in late March.

Duch, driven to the hearing in a bulletproof car from a nearby detention center, intently followed the proceedings in a courtroom packed with some 500 people.

“It is not only me wanting justice today. All Cambodian people have been waiting for 30 years now,” said Vann Nath, one of less than 20 survivors of S-21, who attended the hearing. “I look at Duch today and he seems like an old, very gentle man. It was much different 30 years ago.”

Vann Nath, who survived by painting and sculpting portraits of Khmer Rouge leader Pol Pot, described Duch as a “very cruel man.” Duch, 66, is accused of committing or abetting a range of crimes including murder, torture and rape at S-21 prison — formerly a school — where up to 16,000 men, women and children were held and tortured, before being put to death.