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Last updated at 13:29 GMT, Monday, 21 November 2011

Khmer Rouge trial


21 November 2011

The trial of the three most senior surviving leaders of the Khmer Rouge has begun in Cambodia. A UN-backed tribunal has charged Nuon Chea, Ieng Sary and Khieu Samphan with crimes against humanity and genocide.

Around two million Cambodians died because of forced labour, starvation and murder when the Khmer Rouge governed the country in the late 1970s.

Guy De Launey

A Cambodian man looks at pictures of former Kmer Rouge leaders Nuon Chea (L), Khieu Samphan (middle) and Ieng Sary (R)

Former Kmer Rouge leaders Nuon Chea (L), Khieu Samphan (middle) and Ieng Sary (R)


Click to hear the report


This trial has been more than three decades in the making. Vietnamese-backed forces removed the Khmer Rouge from power in 1979. But for a long time there was no appetite to bring the organisation's leaders tojustice.

International politics allowed the Khmer Rouge to hold Cambodia's seat at the United Nations in the 1980s. And in the 90s a series of amnesties brought its members into positions in the government and military. So it took much wrangling to get the Khmer Rouge Tribunal off the ground. It finally started work almost six years ago, and progress has been agonisingly slow, with only one conviction so far.

Crimes included the forced evacuation of towns and cities; turning their inhabitants into slave labourers in the rice fields; and the torture and murder of anyone considered an enemy of the revolution.

The Khmer Rouge leader, Pol Pot, died in 1998. But his right hand man Nuon Chea is on trial alongside Khieu Samphan, the former head of state, and the former foreign minister, Ieng Sary. If they talk Cambodians may get some explanations at last, but if they stay silent the madness of the Khmer Rouge era may remain a mystery for ever.

Guy De Launey, BBC News


Click to hear the vocabulary


in the making

being prepared



(to bring) to justice

to arrest (the Khmer Rouge leaders) for crimes committed and put them on trial in a court of law


official pardons, particularly for crimes committed


arguing angrily over a long period of time

(to get) off the ground

to get going, to start


painfully or extremely (slow)

forced evacuation

the moving of people against their will

right hand man

indispensible deputy, worked very closely with

a mystery

an unexplained event