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Tuol Sleng Torture Chief To Be Held Another Year, Courts Say

Kaing Khek Iev, the Khmer Rouge torture chief known as Duch, will remain in jail another year as he waits to be tried, military court officials told VOA Friday.

Duch, 64, was the Khmer Rouge's lead interrogator at the S-21 Tuol Sleng torture center. Under his watch, as many as 16,000 Cambodians were tortured and executed, their bodies dumped at the Choeung Ek "killing fields" outside Phnom Penh. He was arrested in May 1999 and has been awaiting trial ever since.

Duch is the only Khmer Rouge cadre in custody and the most likely defendant for a trial under the joint UN-Cambodian tribunal, though his case has not been transferred from the military courts.

Lt. Gen. Ney Thol, military court chief, said Friday that prosecutors charged Duch with war crimes on Wednesday. Duch can be held one more year on this new charge, he said, making him eligible for release Oct. 10, 2008. If the courts cannot build a case by then, he said, Duch will be allowed "out of detention temporarily or fully released."

Nearly 2 million Cambodians died under the Khmer Rouge, which overthrew the government in 1975 and ruled through 1979. In the intervening years, Cambodians have seen the regime's leaders escape justice, either through amnesty or death. Pol Pot died in 1998. The "Butcher" Ta Mok, the Khmer Rouge's army chief, died in custody in July 2006. Other leaders like Ieng Sary, Nuon Chea and Khieu Samphan, under a deal with the government, live freely among their victims.

Brig. Gen. Ngin Sam An, the investigating judge in Duch's case, confirmed that Duch was charged with war crimes and his detainment would last one more year. This would be the last extension for Duch's sentence, he said.

Duch's lawyer, Ka Savuth, said he had not heard about the new charges or the detention extension. His client should be free while awaiting trial and his detention should have ended, he said.

"One time, charged with genocide; one time charged with crimes against humanity; one time charged with war crimes," he said of Duch. "So all three big crimes are finished. What are they going to charge next? I'm wondering about this."

"I plan on Monday or Tuesday to submit [to the court] the request for release," Ka Savuth said.

Duch is thought a likely first defendant of the joint UN-Cambodia tribunal, known officially as the Extraordinary Chambers in the Courts of Cambodia, or ECCC, which was formed in 2003 and cost more than $56 million.

But the start of the tribunal has been stalled by continual breakdowns between the UN-appointed and Cambodian judges. They so far have been unable to agree on internal rules, especially concerning the rights of defendants to choose a lawyer and the role of foreign lawyers.

Duch's case has yet to be transferred to the ECCC.

ECCC spokesman Reach Sambath said he could not comment on the case, because Duch was not under the tribunal's jurisdiction and co-prosecutors have not charged any individuals yet.

"Mr. Duch's case…is not in this [court]," he said. "Whenever he is in the ECCC, he's under ECCC jurisdiction…then we can comment. Until now, we cannot say anything."