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Monday
Nov212011

Khmer Rouge Trial for Cambodia’s 'Killing Fields' Gets Underway

Hemera/Thinkstock(PHNOM PENH, Cambodia) -- Thirty-three years after the end of the Khmer Rouge’s reign of terror in Cambodia left more than a million people dead at the hands of the communist group, three of its former leaders will go on trial Monday.

Some 1.7 million people were either executed or died of starvation in Cambodia from 1975-1979 when the ultra-Maoist Khmer Rouge forced millions from Cambodia’s cities and tried to turn the country into an agrarian society.  Professionals and the well-educated were considered threats to the regime and were imprisoned, tortured and often slain and dumped into mass graves that became known as the killing fields.

Nuon Chea, the right-hand man of Khmer Rouge leader Pol Pot, Khieu Samphan, the head of state during the group’s reign, and Ieng Sary, the Khmer Rouge’s foreign minister, face charges of genocide and crimes against humanity.  The defendants are all in their 80s.

The U.N.-backed tribunal hearing has been moving at a snail’s pace. The judges on the panel were sworn in more than five years ago and the defendants have been in custody since 2007.  Pol Pot died in 1998.

Youk Chhang, the director of the Documentation Center of Cambodia, tells the BBC the survivors of the Khmer Rouge’s reign of terror want an explanation of why they killed fellow Cambodians.

Chhang says the trial is important because, “People just want to confirm that the Khmer Rouge leadership was guilty of crimes against their own population.”

“That’s going to be very important for the whole country to move beyond victimhood and develop,” he adds.

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio

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