Khmer Rouge commander jailed

He gets 35 yrs but will serve just 19 for role in mass killings

Khmer Rouge commander jailed

 Hong Sa Vath (left), whose father was killed in the S-21 Tuol Sleng prison during the Khmer Rouge regime, reacts after hearing the verdict for senior Khmer Rouge commander Kaing Guek Eav outside the ECCC on the outskirts of Phnom Penh, on Monday. REUTERS

Kaing Guek Eav, a 67-year-old former prison chief and known as Duch, received less than the maximum 40 years sought by the prosecution for his role in the ultra-communist “Killing Fields” regime blamed for 1.7 million deaths from 1975 to 1979.

Duch was found guilty of murder, torture, rape, crimes against humanity and other charges as chief of Tuol Sleng prison, a converted school known as S-21 that symbolised the horrors of a regime that wiped out nearly a quarter of Cambodia’s population.

He betrayed no emotion as a judge read the verdict, which cut his sentence to 19 years for time already served. He could be released even earlier on parole if authorities believe he has been rehabilitated, according to the court.

“We hoped this tribunal would strike hard at impunity but if you can kill 14,000 people and serve only 19 years — 11 hours per life taken — what is that? It’s a joke,” said Theary Seng, a Cambodian who is now a US citizen and lost her father at S-21. “My gut feeling is that the sentence has made the situation far worse for Cambodia,” she said. “It has taken a lot of faith out of the system and raised concerns of political interference.”

Duch had told the court he had no choice but to carry out orders and “kill or be killed”. Prosecutors insisted he was “ideologically of the same mind” as the Khmer Rouge’s top leaders and did nothing to stop rampant torture at his prison.

Some Cambodians wept after hearing the verdict, expressing outrage at the joint UN-Cambodian court, which has spent $78.4 million of foreign donations over five years to bring the first of the five indicted Khmer Rouge officials to trial.  “There is no justice. I wanted life imprisonment for Duch,” said Hong Sovath, 47, sobbing in the courtroom. Her father, a diplomat, was killed in the prison. The court said it decided against life in prison for several reasons, including Duch’s expressions of remorse, cooperation with the court, his “potential for rehabilitation” and the coercive environment of life under the Khmer Rouge. Cambodia does not have capital punishment.

Now a born-again Christian, Duch had expressed “excruciating remorse” for the S-21 victims, most of them tortured and forced to confess to spying and other crimes before they were bludgeoned to death at the “Killing Fields” execution sites during the agrarian revolution.

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