Page last updated at 08:18 GMT, Friday, 27 November 2009

Khmer Rouge chief Duch stuns court with release bid


Comrade Duch: "I would ask the chamber to release me"

Former Khmer Rouge prison chief Duch has shocked the UN-backed war crimes tribunal by asking to be released on the final day of the trial.

Duch, whose real name is Kaing Guek Eav, had admitted being responsible for overseeing the deaths of 15,000 people.

Duch commanded a prison from where thousands were killed in an orchard now known as the "Killing Fields".

His request for clemency cast doubt over the sincerity of his requests for forgiveness from the victims' families.

Duch, a former maths teacher, said he had co-operated fully with the tribunal and had been detained since 1999.

"I would ask the chamber to release me. Thank you very much," he said at the end of his closing statement to the court.

Tortured and killed

His lawyer confirmed he was asking to be acquitted on the grounds that he was not a senior member of the Khmer Rouge hierarchy.

Maoist regime that ruled Cambodia from 1975-1979
Founded and led by Pol Pot, who died in 1998
Abolished religion, schools and currency in a bid to create agrarian utopia
Up to two million people thought to have died from starvation, overwork or execution

The judges did not act on Duch's request and closed proceedings. They are expected to make a ruling on the verdict early next year.

Up to two million Cambodians died under Pol Pot's brutal Khmer Rouge rule in the 1970s.

As many as 17,000 inmates are thought to have passed through the gates of the prison which Duch controlled, known as S-21.

The vast majority were tortured, forced to "confess" to crimes against the regime and then put to death just outside Phnom Penh.

Duch is the first of five leading Khmer Rouge figures to face the UN-backed tribunal.

The joint trial of four other - more senior - Khmer Rouge leaders is expected to start in 2011.

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