08/07/2014, 00.00
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Phnom Penh: UN court sentences former Khmer Rouge leaders to life

They are Nuon Chea - "Brother Number Two" and vice to Pol Pot - and Khieu Samphan, head of state under the regime. Both guilty of crimes against humanity. Lawyers speak of "injustice" and announce appeal. Satisfaction among victims’ relatives, but hate "remains unchanged".

Phnom Penh (AsiaNews / Agencies) - The trial against two prominent Khmer Rouge leaders, the Maoist movement in power in Cambodia in the 1970s and responsible for the massacre of almost a quarter of the population has concluded with life sentences for crimes against humanity.

This morning the Joint United Nations Tribunal in Phnom Penh, handed down the sentence to 88 year old Nuon Chea - "Brother Number Two", second only to Pol Pot - and Khieu Samphan, head of state under the regime. They are the two most senior Khmer Rouge leaders to have been convicted for atrocities.  However seen the sentences as to little too late given the fact that both men are very old and in poor health.

During the reading of the verdict of the Chief Judge Nil Nonn said that the two men are guilty of " "extermination encompassing murder, political persecution, and other inhumane acts comprising forced transfer, enforced disappearances and attacks against human dignity'". The defendants were in the courtroom during the reading of the sentence which was handed down after two years of trial; "brother number two" was allowed to remain seated, because of his poor health.

Meanwhile, lawyers for the pair said they would appeal against the ruling. "It is unjust for my client. He did not know or commit many of these crimes," Son Arun, a lawyer for Nuon Chea, told journalists. They will remain in detention while this takes place

Nuon Chea is considered the regime ideologue, while Khieu Samphan was its public face. According to the indictment, they were the masterminds of the movement's policies and became complicit in its brutality committed over its years in power - 1975-1979 .

There were also some relatives of people who died at the hands of the dictatorship of the Khmer Rouge present in the courtroom: "My hatred remains unchanged," said Suon Mom, 75, whose husband and four children died of starvation under the regime. "I still remember the day when I left Phnom Penh - she added - walking alone on the street, without food or water to drink."

Cambodia still bears the wounds of the Khmer Rouge led by the murderous Pol Pot, who ruled the country spreading death and destruction. In a few years the regime eliminated almost two million people (about a quarter of the population).  Most of them starved in the notorious Killing Fields, extermination camps on the outskirts of Phnom Penh. Many of the victims were intellectuals, doctors, teachers and members of the cultural elite.

The sentences today are a feeble attempt to heal the wounds inflicted by the Maoist movement and restore justice to the victims. However, critics point out that the UN Court, accused of corruption and inefficiency, is only partly targeting the symbols of the regime and not guaranteeing true justice to the Cambodian people. Pol Pot died in 1998 from illness and was never put on trial for the atrocities he committed. In addition, many former high ranking officials from the Maoist movement are still free and in many cases hols important roles of government.



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