Cambodia set for historic Khmer Rouge trial

More than three decades after the country's "Killing Fields" era, a UN-backed war crimes court is set to hear opening statements in the case against "Brother Number Two" Nuon Chea, ex-head of state Khieu Samphan and former foreign minister Ieng Sary.

Led by "Brother Number One" Pol Pot, who died in 1998, the communist Khmer Rouge wiped out nearly a quarter of the Cambodian population through starvation, overwork and executions in a bid to create an agrarian utopia.

Ou Virak, the president of the Cambodian Centre for Human Rights and whose father was killed by the regime, said many questions remained unanswered about the brutal period of history.

"I hope that Monday (today) is the beginning of the end for the Cambodian people's search for truth and justice," he said.

Missing from the courtroom will be Ieng Thirith -- the regime's "First Lady" and the only female leader to be charged by the court -- after she was ruled unfit for trial on Thursday because she has dementia.

Judges ordered her release, but she remains locked up while an appeal by the prosecution is considered.

Despite this last-minute drama, the proceedings are considered a major event in the still-traumatised nation's quest for justice.

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