Tuesday, May 23, 2006

Cambodian rally calls for Khmer Rouge trial to begin soon

May 22, 2006

Choeung Ek, Cambodia - Some 1,000 Cambodians gathered at one of the Khmer Rouge's main execution sites on Saturday and called for a tribunal to open soon to prosecute former leaders of the genocidal regime.

After years of wrangling, a joint UN-Cambodian tribunal is expected to start in July, but many Cambodians are angry that Khmer Rouge leaders -- among them Pol Pot, who died in 1998 -- have so far managed to escape justice and fear that more will die free men unless the court gets under way soon.

"I want the tribunal to start as soon as possible. I demand justice for those who died under the Khmer Rouge regime. The faster the tribunal starts, the better," said 63-year-old Not Noun who lost six relatives to the regime.

The ultra-Maoist regime turned Cambodia into a vast collective farm between 1975 and 1979 in their drive for an agrarian utopia, forcing millions into the countryside in what became one of the worst genocides of the 20th century.

At the Choeung Ek memorial, 15 kilometres (nine miles) southwest of Phnom Penh, some 1,000 people gathered Saturday as Buddhist monks chanted to pray for the Khmer Rouge's victims.

Choeung Ek was the main execution site for prisoners of the regime's notorious Tuol Sleng prison, or S-21, where some 16,000 men, women and children were tortured before being killed.

"Many of my relatives were killed by the regime. I want the trial to start soon and I hope there will be justice in the tribunal," said Phal Channy, a 45-year-old woman.

Cambodia's highest legal body appointed 17 Cambodian and 13 foreign court officials to the tribunal earlier this month, completing the final step before co-prosecutors -- one Cambodian and one foreign -- can begin work.

Up to two million people died of starvation, overwork and from execution during the four-year rule of the Khmer Rouge, which abolished religion, property rights, currency and schools.

So far only two former regime leaders have been jailed on genocide charges, while others -- including Pol Pot's top deputy Nuon Chea, former head of state Khieu Samphan and ex-foreign minister Ieng Sary -- live freely in Cambodia.

All are elderly and suffer from poor health, raising fears that they might die before they can be brought to justice.

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