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Monday, November 19, 2007

Cambodia's tribunal opens doors

PHNOM PENH, Cambodia (AP) -- Cambodia's U.N.-backed genocide tribunal arrested the former Khmer Rouge head of state and charged him Monday with crimes against humanity and war crimes, a spokesman said.

Khieu Samphan was the last of five senior officials of the brutal regime to be taken in custody ahead of a long-delayed genocide trial.

Police arrested Khieu Samphan, 76, at a Phnom Penh hospital where he had been undergoing treatment since November 14 after a stroke. Officers held his arms to support him as they led him to a police car, which sped away in a heavily guarded convoy to the tribunal's offices.

Khieu Samphan later was "formally charged with crimes against humanity and war crimes" during his appearance before the co-investigating judges, said tribunal spokesman Reach Sambath. He added that Khieu Samphan's lawyers plan to appeal his detention.

In a milestone, the tribunal opened its doors Tuesday for its first public courtroom proceeding. Kaing Guek Eav, who headed the regime's notorious S-21 prison and torture center, entered the tribunal for a pretrial hearing to appeal his detention ahead of trials scheduled to begin in 2008.

Kaing Guek Eav and one other suspect, former Khmer Rouge ideologist Nuon Chea, were detained earlier this year on charges of war crimes and crimes against humanity.

The U.N.-assisted tribunal was created last year after seven years of contentious negotiations between the United Nations and Cambodia.

Khieu Samphan's defense team will include French lawyer Jacques Verges and a veteran Cambodian legal expert, the tribunal's defense support section said.

Verges' previous clients include Ilich Sanchez Ramirez, the jailed Venezuelan terrorist known as Carlos the Jackal; Nazi war criminal Klaus Barbie; and former Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic.

In an interview with The Associated Press in 2004, Khieu Samphan said he has known Verges since he was a student in France in the 1950s, when the two were active in student movements against French colonialism and the French war in Vietnam.

"He and I used to attend meetings of student committees against colonialism. That's what bound us together in friendship," he said in the interview.

Khieu Samphan's Cambodian lawyer is Say Bory, the former president of the Cambodian Bar Association and a member of the constitutional council, the country's highest legal body. Say Bory currently is legal adviser to former King Norodom Sihanouk, the statement said.

The arrests came almost three decades after the group fell from power, and many fear the aging suspects could die before being brought to justice. After years of delays, the trial is expected to begin in 2008.

Most historians and researchers believe the radical policies of the Khmer Rouge, which sought a utopian communist state, led to the deaths of at least 1.7 million Cambodians through starvation, disease, overwork and execution.

Khieu Samphan has repeatedly denied responsibility for any atrocities. An insight into his defense hit bookstores last week, when he published his version of the Khmer Rouge's story.

In "Reflection on Cambodian History Up to the Era of Democratic Kampuchea," Khieu Samphan said the Khmer Rouge only wanted what was best for Cambodia.

"There was no policy of starving people. Nor was there any direction set out for carrying out mass killings," he wrote. "There was always close consideration of the people's well-being."

He wrote that the Khmer Rouge was resilient "in the struggle to defend national sovereignty, (and) in demanding social justice."

Khieu Samphan described Pol Pot, the regime's late leader, as a patriot concerned with social justice and fighting foreign enemies. He "sacrificed his entire life ... to defend national sovereignty," the book said.

However, Khieu Samphan assigned Pol Pot with responsibility for the group's policies, and said he was involved in the purges of any Khmer Rouge suspected to be disloyal or spies, claiming they probably numbered in the hundreds.

A week ago, authorities arrested Ieng Sary, the former Khmer Rouge foreign minister, and his wife Ieng Thirith, its social affairs minister. Both were charged with crimes against humanity; Ieng Sary was also charged with war crimes. The genocide tribunal formally placed them in provisional detention for up to a year.
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