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Khmer Rouge 'core' goes on trial

Khmer Rouge 'core' goes on trial
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Now frail and elderly pensioners, they nonetheless stand accused of being privy to the decisions taken by the regime of the Khmer Rouge.

They are 79-year-old Kieu Samphan, the former head of state of what was known at the time as Democratic Kampuchea; 84-year-old Nuon Chea, the regime’s former Number Two; 85-year-old Ieng Sary who was the Minister for Foreign Affairs, while his wife, 79-year-old Ieng Tearit, took charge of social affairs in the country.

They are the final four surviving members of the Khmer Rouge to stand trial. Thousands of Cambodians hope and expect for justice to be served. But they also want to know why – and that might never happen.

Brother Number One, was also known as Saloth Sir, the infamous Pol Pot. When they first came to power, he and his Khmer Rouge were welcomed by the Cambodian people as a liberating force. But those same people would be massacred in their millions during the regime’s four years in control.

The Khmer Rouge came to power in 1975 after several years of civil war. This was when the bloody slaughter began. Their creed encompassed the fight against imperialism, the elimination of intellectuals and the re-education of the masses by manual labour to create an agrarian utopia.

Around two million people were deported to the countryside, where they would die of malnutrition. Some might say they were the lucky ones. Others would end up in Tuol Sleng, a former high school which would come to be known as Camp 21, the prison where those suspected of being opposed to the regime were held.

Any infraction or misdemeanour could lead to incarceration. Even, it was claimed, wearing glasses in public.

Men, women and even children would be tortured and executed in Camp 21 under appalling conditions.

Fifteen thousand people would die. When troops from Vietnam eventually arrived to liberate those inside, they were confronted by scenes of unimaginable horror. Behind a pile of washing, they found five children. One later died but the four remaining would become known as the only survivors of Camp 21.

Pol Pot, the main architect of the inhumanity would himself die in 1998 – before he could be brought before a court. Last year, Duch, who was in charge of Camp 21, was sent to prison for three decades. Perhaps the trial of these final four will allow Cambodia to finally turn the page on its all-too-recent four year time of terror.