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Khmer Rouge leaders’ UN-led trial concludes in Cambodia

Two Khmer Rouge leaders have denied any guilt as their trial concludes. The hybrid national and United Nations tribunal was set up in 2006 to try perpetrators for the worst crimes under Pol Pot's ultra-Maoist regime.

Nuon Chea (pictured), known as Pol Pot's Brother No. 2 and the regime's chief ideologist, and former Khmer Rouge head of state Khieu Samphan, claimed the court could not hold them responsible for crimes that occurred under the regime. On trial for almost two years now, Nuon Chea, 87, and Khieu Samphan, 82, face charges of crimes against humanity and genocide between 1975 and 1979, when 1.7 million people met their deaths by execution, overwork or starvation.

"I didn't have any knowledge of the crimes committed," Nuon Chea told the court, asking for acquittal and claiming he only learned of atrocities after the government's fall. "Nonetheless I would like to express my deepest remorse and moral responsibility to the victims and Cambodian people who suffered," he added, admitting some fault because "loose and untidy control" within the regime allowed "treacherous subordinates" to commit atrocities.

Thursday marked the final day of the landmark trial, in which four defendants had initially faced prosecution, and throughout which many feared that the aging leaders would not live to see a verdict, expected early next year. Former foreign minister Ieng Sary died earlier this year and advanced dementia left his wife, Ieng Thirith, unfit for trial due to advanced dementia. Khmer Rouge leader Pol Pot died in 1998.

'Peace and prosperity'

For his part Khieu Samphan said he had only wanted "peace and prosperity for Cambodia."

"It's easy to say that I should have known everything," he said. "Do you really think that that was what I wanted to happen to my people?"

The tribunal, launched in 2006, so far has convicted only one defendant, Khmer Rouge prison director Kaing Guek Eav, who had his sentence extended to life imprisonment in 2011. The present trial has focused on the forced movement of people and excludes some of the gravest charges related to genocide, detention centers and killings. The next trial will begin as soon as possible, but the tribunal has not set a date.

mkg/rc (AFP, dpa, AP)