The Khmer Rouge tribunal in Cambodia indicted four senior leaders of the 1970s regime blamed for the deaths of a quarter of the population three years after putting them behind bars, ensuring they will face trial.
The Extraordinary Chambers in the Courts of Cambodia indicted former head of state Khieu Samphan, 79, ex-foreign minister Ieng Sary, 84, his wife Ieng Thirith, 78, and Nuon Chea, 84, the movement’s second-in-command. In July, Kang Kek Ieu, the regime’s top jailer, was sentenced to 30 years in prison, the first conviction in a 13-year effort to punish the aging leaders.
“It’s widely considered that these four persons are the highest-ranking persons still alive” from the regime, Lars Olsen, a spokesman for the United Nations-backed tribunal, said by phone today from Phnom Penh. “We hope that the trial can start in the first half of next year.”
Many Cambodians are too young to remember the Khmer Rouge reign from 1975 to 1979, with a third of the country’s 14.2 million people under the age of 15. The regime’s leaders lived freely in Cambodia for years until the government requested UN assistance in 1997 to start a tribunal to seek justice for the estimated 1.7 million deaths they caused.
The four were charged with crimes against humanity, breaches of the Geneva Conventions, genocide and murder, torture and religious persecution under the Cambodian Criminal Code 1956, the tribunal said in a statement. Unlike Kang Kek Ieu, who apologized during the trial and cooperated with the tribunal, the four have denied wrongdoing.
The 350,000-page case file included 46 interviews with the accused persons, more than 1,000 interviews with witnesses and civil parties and more than 11,600 pieces of evidence related to the case, the tribunal said.
The Khmer Rouge took power after a U.S. bombing campaign during the Vietnam War stirred discontent in the countryside against General Lon Nol’s coup-installed government. Led by Pol Pot, the regime evacuated Phnom Penh to put people to work on farms and closed all schools, universities and monasteries. Money, markets and private property were abolished.
The regime collapsed in 1979 when Vietnam invaded and took the capital. The U.S. and China backed the Khmer Rouge to continue representing Cambodia at the United Nations, providing the regime legitimacy until 1993, when the first post-conflict elections were held.