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In Final Plea, Duch Asks To Be Freed

The final stage of the trial for jailed Khmer Rouge prison chief Kaing Kek Iev ended Friday, with the defense split and the defendant asking to be set free despite admissions of guilt.

Prosecutors have demanded Kaing Kek Iev, better known as Duch, be given 40 years for his role as administrator of the Khmer Rouge prison Tuol Sleng, where they say more than 12,000 people perished.

The Trial Chamber’s five judges, two foreign, three Cambodian, are expected to announce a verdict early in 2010, for charges of war crimes, crimes against humanity, torture and murder.

In the final week of arguments, Duch’s defense lawyers found themselves at odds, with French attorney Francois Roux arguing for leniency in the sentencing, for Duch’s admission of guilt and cooperation with the UN-backed court, and with Cambodian attorney Kar Savuth asking the most serious charges be dropped.

Duch himself stunned observers of the court Friday when he simply asked to be let free.

Thun Saray, president of the rights group Adhoc, which has been monitoring the tribunal, said the disunity among the defense could be a disadvantage for the defendant.

“It’s up to the judges’ decision, based on all the evidence received from civil parties and co-prosecutors,” he said. “But to set him free, I think, would be impossible, although the court may consider that he has been in detention for more than 10 years.”

Duch’s trial began in March, when he claimed he would take responsibility for his role as prison administrator and asked for forgiveness from his victims. He described the leadership of the Khmer Rouge communists.

“Duch has helped the court a lot,” tribunal spokesman Reach Sambath said. “He made sure that the court and the people understood his point of view. He and his defense lawyers cooperated well with the court. We see that Duch has contributed to the success we have had and to the court’s operation.”

The tribunal, following Cambodian law, has no provision for the death penalty, only lifetime imprisonment. But an early release is not likely to go down well with families of victims or survivors of his prison.

“If Duch is set free, there will be a problem,” said Chum Mey, who lived through Tuol Sleng. “It will be a joke on the international community. The court has spent a lot of money, and what will happen if Duch is set free?”

Duch may not be a top leader, “but everybody knows that he killed people at Tuol Sleng,” Chum Mey said.

Were Duch to be set free, there remains a court mechanism for appeal for men like Chum Mey.

"In principle, a Civil party who does not agree with the court decision can appeal their interests to the [tribunal] Supreme Court if the prosecutor decides to appeal," said Neou Kassie, Outreach Coordinator for the court's Victims Unit. "We have another level that is available."