Final week of hearings starts in trial of Khmer Rouge cadre Duch

Final week of hearings starts in trial of Khmer Rouge cadre DuchPhnom Penh  - Closing arguments began Monday in the trial of the former Khmer Rouge prison camp commander Duch, who is charged with crimes against humanity and grave breaches of the Geneva Convention.

Duch, whose real name is Kaing Guek Eav, ran the infamous torture and execution centre known as S-21 in Phnom Penh between 1975 and 1979. At least 15,000 people died at S-21 during that time, and just a handful survived.

Lawyers for the prosecution, defence and civil parties are scheduled to address the court from Monday to Thursday. The civil parties are a grouping of 90 people whose relatives were killed during Duch's command of S-21.

Karim Khan, a civil party lawyer, told the court on Monday that Duch had run a camp "dedicated to death" and said the accused's stance that he had little choice but to carry out his functions held little water.

"The accused did what he did not only because he was ideologically of the same mind as the senior members of the [Khmer Rouge hierarchy] ... and wished to belong, but because it made life easier for him," Khan said.

Khan said the evidence heard during the 72-day trial had shown Duch enjoyed the autonomy to carry out certain important actions at S-21, including building prison cells at the former school.

"What happened to this autonomy when it came to the interrogation, the torture and the killing of so many people?" Khan asked.

"This is no Schindler before you," Khan concluded, referring to Oskar Schindler, the German industrialist who famously saved several hundred Jews from Nazi death camps during the World War II.

Khan told the bench of five judges that they would need to weigh up Duch's acceptance of some of the crimes of which he is accused against his unwillingness to shoulder responsibility for other crimes that witnesses said he committed.

"The evidence shows only one conclusion: For all that has been said by the accused and his defence in large and important particulars, the accused has sought to minimize his role," Khan told the court.

Duch has testified that he was simply following orders and had almost no power to help detainees sent to S-21.

Sentencing in Duch's trial will be delivered early next year. There is no death penalty in Cambodia, and he faces a maximum penalty of life in prison for his crimes.

Four senior surviving leaders are currently in jail and awaiting trial.

The Khmer Rouge ruled Cambodia between 1975 and 1979 before being forced out of power by neighbouring Vietnam. Around 2 million people died of starvation and disease or were executed under the Khmer Rouge regime. (dpa)