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Khmer Rouge Leaders' Trial in Cambodia Raises Controversy

Although Cambodia’s so-called “Killing Fields” survivors welcomed Thursday the court’s ruling to impose life sentences against two elderly Khmer Rouge leaders, many say justice has come too late and is simply not adequate.

MOSCOW, August 8 (RIA Novosti) - Although Cambodia’s so-called “Killing Fields” survivors welcomed the court’s ruling to impose life sentences against two elderly Khmer Rouge leaders on Thursday, many say justice has come too late and is simply not adequate. The stance is increasingly common with young citizens, primarily those born after the Khmer Rouge era atrocities, Japan Times states.

"There's little benefit from continuing the trials. We should use the money to develop the country instead," said Ngo Menghourng, a 26-year-old university graduate, whose relatives suffered from the regime. "I understand that they want to find justice for the Cambodian people, but it is too late."

Thursday saw the end of only the first part of hearings, which were centered mainly around the evacuation of urban centers in Cambodia, former Kampuchea, while the second part, focusing on genocide charges, is still ahead. Trial monitors point to the fact that the proceedings could last several more years, meaning the convicts could die before all the proceedings are over.

Besides, experts increasingly argue the Khmer Rouge trial seems to be a very long and expensive process.

“Justice mechanisms for complex crimes that span an entire country and result in nearly 2 million deaths are inherently time-consuming and expensive. They require exploring extensive evidence and applying detailed principles of international law,” Heather Ryan, a monitor of the tribunal’s work for the Open Society Justice Initiative, comments to Japan Times.

Khmer Rouge survivors, though, sound much more determined to bring those guilty to justice:

"Even though it is too little, too late for many victims, we need to continue to search for truth and justice," said Youk Chhang, a survivor of the Khmer Rouge era who now runs the Documentation Center of Cambodia nonprofit group researching into Cambodians’ genocide, as reported by The Wall Street Journal.

Overall 4,000 victims filed claims in the trial, and some of them took active part in the proceedings, including Norng Chan Phal. He was a boy when he found himself behind the bars in the notorious S-21 prison in Phnom Penh, where his parents were tortured before being executed.

“We have been waiting for this verdict for more than 30 years,” he said, adding that he wanted the defendants to be denied a proper burial. “After they die, their bodies should be kept in the prison cells,” The New York Times cited him as saying.

A UN-backed tribunal in Cambodia has handed down a life sentence to two former Khmer Rouge leaders, convicted of crimes against humanity and orchestrating the atrocities in Cambodia back in the 1970s.

The verdict comes after an almost three-year trial of former deputy to late leader Pol Pot Nuon Chea, 88, and former head of state Khieu Samphan, 83, currently senior surviving ex-Khmer Rouge officials. They are said to have been key figures in the regime that oversaw over 1.7 million tragic deaths during the so-called "Killing Fields" epoch from 1975-1979.

The court stated there had been “widespread and systematic attack against the civilian population of Cambodia” and that the two men had to bear responsibility for being part of a “joint criminal enterprise”, namely that of displacing thousands of people and executing citizens with the sole aim of building an ideal agrarian land.

Under the Khmer Rouge and its leader Pol Pot’s rule in 1975 -1979 entire families were reportedly separated, money was abolished and intelligent population was forced into giant agricultural communities, which shortly failed. Prosecutors claim the Khmer Rouge regime rooted out 25 percent of urban and 15 percent of rural population at the time.

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