Court prepares to hear appeals in Khmer Rouge case

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Ex-officials already sentenced for forced evacuation of capital and transfers countrywide, and execution of previous regime figures

By Lauren Crothers

PHNOM PENH, Cambodia – A Cambodian war crimes tribunal is set to hear the appeals Thursday of two elderly leaders of the ultra-Maoist Khmer Rouge who were handed life sentences for crimes against humanity in 2013.

Legal teams for former “Brother Number 2” Nuon Chea and the regime’s former head of state, Khieu Samphan, are set to argue that their clients were wrongfully convicted.

The charges stem from the 1975 forced evacuation of Phnom Penh, forced transfer of people around the country, and execution of officials and soldiers from the previous Lon Nol regime.

The court said in a statement Monday that both defendants had “filed appeals against the Trial Chamber’s judgment, advancing 223 and 148 grounds of appeal respectively.” It has scheduled two hearings for this week and another two for next week.

Victor Koppe, one of the defense lawyers for Nuon Chea, told Anadolu Agency by phone Tuesday that he expects dealing with this panel of judges to be significantly different. Nuon Chea’s defense team had repeatedly locked horns with the trial judges.

“I have a feeling that for the first time in years, I will be dealing with a real court,” he said.

He said that of the 223 grounds of appeal his team has put forward, “a few relate to a crucial finding of the Trial Chamber that the [Communist Party of Kampuchea] was a hierarchical body, which we are convinced wasn’t the case.”

“There were opposing factions leading to even open-out conflict. One witness might shed light on that,” he underlined.

He added that two others witnesses would be able to speak more about the execution of former regime soldiers at a site called Tuol Po Chrey, which prosecutors had argued Nuon Chea was behind the policy for.

Khieu Samphan’s lawyer Kong Sam Onn also told Anadolu Agency Tuesday that his team’s main purpose will be “to find out the issue of plots during the Khmer Rouge period.”

Referring to the Trial Chamber’s judgment, he said they had “dismissed facts of no internal fighting, but in fact there were many series of internal disputes in Democratic Kampuchea.”

During the trial, both teams had argued that their clients were not in positions to make policy regarding the evacuation or subsequent executions.

The court’s legal officer Lars Olsen told a press conference Tuesday of the importance of remembering that the pair is still presumed innocent until proven otherwise in a final judgment. The decision of the Supreme Court Chamber could come in the first quarter of next year.

Nuon Chea and Khieu Samphan are currently being tried at the same court on genocide charges, in what is a second phase of the same case.

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