Way cleared to try 2 Khmer Rouge leaders

Posted: July 31, 2014 at 5 a.m.

PHNOM PENH, Cambodia — A United Nations-assisted tribunal on Wednesday cleared the way to begin the genocide trial of two elderly former top leaders of Cambodia’s 1970s Khmer Rouge regime.

Survivors of the communist regime’s reign of terror, along with students and Buddhist monks, attended a hearing that laid down the ground rules for the trial, which judges said likely would start in September or October.

The defendants, Khieu Samphan, 83, and Nuon Chea, 88, were in the top leadership of the 1975-79 regime, which is generally held responsible for the deaths of about 1.7 million people from starvation, exhaustion, disease and execution.

The two will hear the verdict next week of a first trial against them on charges of war crimes and crimes against humanity, related mostly to the forced movement of millions of people to the countryside when the Khmer Rouge took power.

At Wednesday’s hearing, the chief judge, Nil Nonn, read out the new charges before lawyers began debating witness lists, reparations requests and procedural objections.

Khieu Samphan attended the hearing and appeared to be in good health, at times taking notes. Nuon Chea, however, remained in his holding cell because he can’t sit for long periods of time.

Because of the advanced age of the defendants, the case against them has been divided into separate trials in hopes that they will live long enough to have some judgments against them completed.

Legal experts and lawyers have argued that such an approach muddies the pursuit of justice.