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Saturday, December 19, 2009

Khmer Rouge head of state Khieu Samphan charged with genocide

Khieu Samphan in court during a public hearing in 2008Khieu Samphan applauds his soldiers in 1976
An international tribunal in Cambodia charged the country’s former head of state with genocide today, in a move that could further delay the drawn out trials of former leaders of the murderous Khmer Rouge regime.

Khieu Samphan became the third Cambodian to be charged with genocide this week after Ieng Sary, the former Foreign Minister, and Nuon Chea, the second in the Khmer Rouge hierarchy after the late Pol Pot.

All have already been charged with war crimes and crimes against humanity, as well as murder and torture for the crimes committed by the Khmer Rouge during the four years that they ruled Cambodia after 1975.

The paperwork required by the new charges is likely to further delay the conclusion of proceedings against a group of already old and ill men.

About 1.7 million Cambodians are believed to have died during the time of the so-called killing fields, when the urban population was forced into the countryside en masse to live as peasants.

Yesterday’s charges relate to the regime’s purge of two minorities living within Cambodia: Vietnamese and the Muslim Cham, who were among the few people to mount a determined resistance to the Khmer Rouge. Between 100,000 and 400,000 of the Cham are believed to have died.

Like most of his senior Khmer Rouge colleagues, Khieu Samphan was born into what, by Cambodian standards, was a privileged family. He studied in Paris, producing a thesis on Cambodian economic development.

On returning home, he worked as an academic and journalist and became involved in left-wing politics. The year after the Khmer Rouge’s victory in the civil war he became president of the organisation’s central presidium. However, the greatest power in the country lay with Pol Pot, who died in 1998.

Khieu Samphan’s lawyers argue that his position was no more than ceremonial and that he bears no responsibility for the atrocities that took place under his Government. He was arrested in 1998 and reportedly suffered a stroke two years ago.

Source: Times Online - Richard Lloyd Parry

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