A U.N.-backed court in Cambodia will start its first trial next month of a former interrogator of the Khmer Rouge regime, blamed for the deaths of 1.7 million people in the "Killing Fields" over 30 years ago.
The trial of Duch, 66, who was in charge of a torture centre known as S-21, will begin on Feb. 17, the court said on Monday.
"Everybody has waited a long time for this moment. It's more than 30 years since the end of the Khmer Rouge regime," court spokeswoman Helen Jarvis told Reuters.
Duch has been charged with war crimes, crimes against humanity, torture and homicide.
Prosecutors may have chosen to go ahead with his trial first because they can draw on plenty of evidence and witnesses.
Others in custody are 'Brother Number Two' Nuon Chea, former President Khieu Samphan, former Foreign Minister Ieng Sary and his wife, Ieng Thirith. All face life in jail if convicted.
Vietnamese troops ousted the ultra-Maoist, Beijing-backed Khmer Rouge led by Pol Pot on Jan. 7, 1979, but Cambodia has only really known peace for a decade.
After fleeing into the jungle along the Thai border, the remnants of Pol Pot's black-shirted guerrilla army resisted the Vietnamese and the administration they installed until their final surrender in 1998. Pol Pot died the same year.
Bringing the survivors to court has been a lengthy process, and many Cambodians have become frustrated at the interminable delays to the joint Cambodian-United Nations tribunal.
The court said this month that Cambodia's prosecutor was blocking a bid by her international counterpart to go after more than the five top cadres in custody.
Human rights groups said that confirmed long-held suspicions that Prime Minister Hun Sen was manipulating the court to ensure it did not dig too deep, for fear it might unearth secrets about some of the senior Khmer Rouge figures inside his administration.
The government has denied any such attempt.
Duch, also known as Kaing Guek Eav and now a Christian, has been detained since his arrest in 1999. He is alleged to have played a part in the jailing and torture of about 14,000 people, including women and children.
Last Mod: 19 Ocak 2009, 16:10