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
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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
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- in the making
- (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