Khmer Rouge jail chief accused of crocodile tears

File photo of Kaing Guek Eav, better known as Duch (AFP photo)

PHNOM PENH, Nov 23, 2009 (AFP) - Lawyers for Khmer Rouge victims Monday accused the regime's jailer of duping Cambodia's war crimes court with "crocodile tears" as he faces final arguments over "Killing Fields" atrocities.

Former prison chief Kaing Guek Eav -- better known as Duch -- has apologised repeatedly for his role in the horrors of the hardline communist regime, which killed up to two million people three decades ago.

But civil lawyers representing 93 victims of the Tuol Sleng prison at the UN-backed court argued that Duch had failed to acknowledge the full extent of his guilt, as his trial entered its closing week.

Attorney Kong Pisey told judges that Duch had sought "to cleverly evade responsibility when it suits him" and wept "crocodile tears" in the dock.

"The cooperation with the court and his pretended truthful admissions is half-hearted," Kong Pisey said, speaking through an official translator.

"However the accused's defence strategy of denying any personal involvement of torture, killing and arrest is unsuccessful."

Lawyers used part of the day's hearings to recount how Tuol Sleng prisoners were beaten, electrocuted and then executed.

"Your honours must objectively, we say, review the evidence to determine whether or not what has been accepted by the accused amounts to full disclosure and the full truth," lawyer Karim Khan told judges.

The prosecution is scheduled to begin presenting its arguments Tuesday.

Duch, who wore a white turtleneck sweater as he watched Monday's proceedings from the dock, is expected to apologise again this week as his defence bids to lessen his sentence.

Since his trial began in February, Duch, 67, has repeatedly asked for forgiveness for overseeing the murders of around 15,000 men, women and children at the S-21 or Tuol Sleng prison, a former high school.

He is charged with crimes against humanity, war crimes, torture and premeditated murder, and faces a maximum term of life in prison by the tribunal, which does not have the power to impose the death penalty.

A verdict is expected early next year.

Hundreds of Cambodians attended the specially built courtroom on the outskirts of Phnom Penh on Monday to watch Duch, who sat behind a huge bullet-proof screen to prevent possible revenge attacks.

This week's proceedings will be broadcast live by all Cambodian television stations, court officials said.

Tuol Sleng prison was at the heart of the Khmer Rouge security apparatus and inmates were taken from there during Duch's tenure for execution at nearby Choeung Ek, an orchard now known as the "Killing Fields".

Led by "Brother Number One" Pol Pot, the Khmer Rouge was responsible for one of the worst horrors of the 20th century, wiping out nearly a quarter of the population through starvation, overwork and execution.

Rising to power as a tragic spin-off from the US conflict in Vietnam, the movement emptied Cambodia's cities to take society back to a rural "Year Zero", purging city dwellers, intellectuals and even people who wore glasses.

The four-year Khmer Rouge reign of terror ended in 1979. Pol Pot died in 1998.

Duch has been detained since 1999, when he was found working as a Christian aid worker in the jungle, and was formally arrested by the tribunal in July 2007.

The court has faced controversy over allegations of interference by the government and claims that Cambodian staff paid bribes for their jobs.

The joint trial of four other more senior Khmer Rouge leaders is expected to start in 2011.

The court is also investigating whether to open more cases against five other former Khmer Rouge cadres after a dispute between the international and Cambodian co-prosecutors over whether to pursue more suspects.

Source: AFP

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