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Duch Torture Case Could Close by 'First Half' of 2008, Tribunal Says

At least one case against Kaing Khek Iev, alias Duch, could wrap up as early as the first half of next year, two Khmer Rouge tribunal judges said Thursday.

While Duch could face other criminal charges for his role as Khmer Rouge cadre, these will be tried separately from those stemming from his stewardship of Tuol Sleng prison, where as many as 16,000 Cambodians were tortured and sentenced to death, the co-investigating judges said.

Co-Investigating Judges You Bunleng and Marcel Lemonde said in the statement they hoped the trial would be completed "to the extent possible, during the first half of 2008."

Duch's torture center case will be tried on its own "in order to close this part of the investigation without having to await the results of additional investigations concerning the other alleged crimes" against him, the two said.

Experts welcomed the news, but warned again of the tribunal's impending budget crisis.

"It's right that the investigating judges say it will finish, because the jurisdiction of the Khmer Rouge tribunal has only three years," said Hisham Mousar, a legal expert for the rights group Adhoc. "If the hearing wasn't allowed until the end of 2008, it would be beyond the limits of the term, and we don't know if it will be extended or not, because right now there is not enough money."

Adhoc has reviewed several complaints from citizens, with three or four of them from victims who survived Tuol Sleng. The group hoped to forward the complaints, with added victims, to the courts.

The number of civil cases brought to the tribunal was still low, he said, indicating that many people were still unaware of the process.

The judges also said a long-awaited Victim's Unit would be up and running "in coming days."

The unit would help victims of the regime file criminal and civil suits against top leaders of the regime.