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Thursday October 31, 2013 MYT 6:08:00 PM
Thursday October 31, 2013 MYT 6:19:18 PM
PHNOM PENH: Cambodia's top surviving Khmer Rouge leaders refused to admit guilt Thursday at the end of a two-year trial billed as a chance for reconciliation, angering victims of the brutal regime.
Prosecutors are demanding life imprisonment for "Brother Number Two" Nuon Chea and ex-head of state Khieu Samphan for the "Killing Fields" era atrocities, which left up to two million people dead in the late 1970s.
Addressing the country's UN-backed tribunal in his final statement before a verdict, Nuon Chea, 87, blamed everything on "treacherous" subordinates.
"Through this trial it has been shown clearly that I was not engaged in any commission of the crimes as alleged by the co-prosecutors. In short, I am innocent in relation to those allegations," he said.
Ngor An, 69, who lost more than 10 relatives including three children under the Khmer Rouge, described Nuon Chea as a "coward" for not admitting his guilt.
"I am angry with what he said. He must be jailed for life," he said after watching the court proceedings.
Led by Pol Pot, who died in 1998, the communist Khmer Rouge regime wiped out up to a quarter of the population through executions, starvation and overwork.
The two defendants both insist they were unaware of the atrocities committed by the regime.
"I would like to express my deepest remorse and moral responsibility to victims and the Cambodian people who suffered during the Democratic Kampuchea (Khmer Rouge) regime," Nuon Chea said.
But he added that based on the evidence presented to the court, "I respectfully submit to your honours to acquit me from all the charges and accordingly release me."
Khieu Samphan, 82, did not express remorse or apologise to the victims in his final statement in the trial, which began in June 2011.
"The reality was that I did not have any power and I did not care about it either," he said, but stopped short of seeking an acquittal.
The complex case of the regime's two most senior surviving leaders has been split into a series of smaller trials, initially focusing on the forced evacuation of people into rural labour camps and related charges of crimes against humanity.
More than two million people were expelled from Phnom Penh in April 1975 at gunpoint and marched to rural labour camps in one of the largest forced migrations in modern history.
The defendants deny charges of war crimes, crimes against humanity and genocide, to the dismay of survivors and relatives of victims.
"We cannot accept his apology. He lied to us. He wanted to be acquitted. He did not care about others," Bin Sivla, 55, who lost 11 relatives under the regime, said of Nuon Chea's testimony.
"If he did not give the order, his subordinates would not have dared to kill," she said, describing the Khmer Rouge leaders as "worse than monsters".
"Monsters would kill only a few people, but they killed millions of people."
The closing statements ended on Thursday with a verdict expected in the first half of next year, although a date has not yet been set.
The kingdom does not use the death penalty so life imprisonment is the toughest sentence that the court can hand down.
The allegations of genocide and war crimes are due to be heard in later hearings although no date has so far been fixed.
The trial, which began hearing evidence in late 2011, is widely seen as a landmark in the nation's quest for justice.
Another defendant, former foreign minister Ieng Sary, died aged 87 in March this year, while the case against his wife Ieng Thirith - also an ex-minister - was suspended after the court ruled dementia left her unfit to stand trial.
In its historic first trial, the court in 2010 sentenced former prison chief Kaing Guek Eav to 30 years in prison - later increased to life on appeal - for overseeing the deaths of 15,000 people. -AFP
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