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Tribunal Convicts Duch to 19 Years in Prison

  • VOA Khmer

A war crimes tribunal sentenced a former Khmer Rouge chief jailer and executioner to 35 years in prison on Monday for overseeing the deaths of thousands of people during a genocidal rule that devastated a generation of Cambodians.

Victims and their relatives who wanted a life sentence for 67-year-old Kaing Guek Eav - also known as Duch - burst into tears after learning that he could face just 19 years behind bars after taking into account time already served and other factors.

Duch was convicted in Monday's verdict of war crimes and crimes against humanity, but the sentence effectively means he could one day walk free.

It was the first verdict for the country's United Nations-backed tribunal, three decades after the Khmer Rouge killed an estimated 1.7 million Cambodians from starvation, medical neglect, slave-like working conditions and execution.

During his 77-day proceedings, Duch admitted to heading Toul Sleng, a top secret detention centre for the worst "enemies" of the state.

More than 16-thousand people passed through its gates before they were killed.

Torture used to extract confessions included pulling out prisoners' toenails, administering electric shocks and waterboarding.

Unlike the other defendants, Duch was not among the ruling clique and is the only major figure of the regime to have expressed remorse, even offering at one point to face a public stoning and allow victims to visit him in jail.

But his surprise request on the final day of the trial to be acquitted and freed, left many wondering if his contrition was sincere.

Monday's decision angered many who were hoping for a more severe sentence.

"He should have got life," said Hong Savath, who was weeping so hard that she could hardly talk.

"It is just unacceptable ... it comes down to serving 11 and half hours per life that he took which is not just comprehensible or acceptable," said Theary Seng, a human rights lawyer who lost both of her parents and has been working with other victims to find justice.

Chum Mey, a survivor of S-21, the most notorious Cambodian death camp of the Khmer Rouge regime, felt justice had not been served.

"I'm not happy. My people are not happy. I'm angry once again," he said outside court.

"We suffered once under the Pol Pot regime and now we are suffering again. I'm not satisfied," he added.

Lawyers for some of the civil parties who sued Duch said they would appeal the sentence.

"All I can say is that my family, who are no longer here to see justice, would not want to see this man walk free, even if it's in 19 years time," added Rob Hamill, brother of Khmer Rouge victim Kerry Hamill.

Duch, who kept meticulous records, was often present during interrogations at Toul Sleng and signed off on all the executions.

In one memo, a guard asked him what to do with six boys and three girls accused of being traitors.

"Kill every last one," he wrote across the top.

After the Khmer Rouge were forced from power in 1979 after a bloody, four-year reign, Duch disappeared for almost two decades, living under various aliases in northwestern Cambodia, whehe had converted to Christianity.

His chance discovery by a British journalist led to his arrest in May 1999.

The group's top leader, Pol Pot, died in 1998 and four other senior Khmer Rouge leaders are awaiting trial.

Information for this report is provided by APTN.

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