Khmer Rouge trial enters crucial phase
This handout photo taken and released by the Extraordinary Chamber in the Courts of Cambodia (ECCC) on March 19, 2012 shows former Khmer Rouge leader Nuon Chea "Brother Number Two" sitting in the courtroom at the ECCC in Phnom Penh
More than three decades after the country's "Killing Fields" era, the UN-backed court is moving closer to a verdict in the case of "Brother Number Two" Nuon Chea, 87, and ex-head of state Khieu Samphan, 82.
Led by "Brother Number One" Pol Pot, who died in 1998, the communist Khmer Rouge wiped out up to two million people through starvation, overwork and execution in the late 1970s.
The trial, which began hearing evidence in late 2011, is widely seen as a landmark in the nation's quest for justice.
The defendants deny charges of war crimes, crimes against humanity and genocide.
Their complex case has been split into a series of smaller trials, starting with the forced evacuation of the population into rural labour camps and the related charges of crimes against humanity.
The closing statements in the first mini-trial will start with lawyers for the "civil parties" that represent thousands of plaintiffs, followed by the prosecution and the defence.
They are scheduled to be completed on October 31, with a verdict expected in first half of next year.
Other allegations, including genocide and war crimes, are due to be heard in later hearings although no date has yet been set.
Observers and survivors have long raised fears about the speed of proceedings and the advanced age of the accused.
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.
Hundreds of Cambodians are expected to travel to the capital to hear the closing statements, although interest in the trial has been muted among the wider public.
"The trial was long and complicated and for those not able to follow all the details, the closing statements will be an opportunity to hear about the major factual and legal issues," said Heather Ryan of Open Society Justice Initiative.
The court has been hit by delays caused by money shortages, staff walkouts, alleged political interference as well as the poor health of the accused.
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.
The court is investigating two possible new cases -- strongly opposed by the government -- against several lower-ranking cadres, although there are doubts about whether they will make trial, to the dismay of some Cambodians.
"We have to continue the trial in order to seek justice for those who were killed and for the victims who survived," 24-year-old Pich Vutha told AFP after visiting a former Khmer Rouge prison.
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