A war crimes tribunal convicted and sentenced the Khmer Rouge's chief jailer today for overseeing the deaths of up to 16,000 people, in the first verdict involving a senior member of the "killing fields" regime that devastated a generation of Cambodians. Victims and their relatives burst into tears after hearing that a 35-year sentence given to Kaing Guek Eav—also known as Duch—had been whittled down to just 19 after taking into account time already served and other factors. That effectively means the 67-year-old could one day walk free.
"I can't accept this," said Saodi Ouch, 46, shaking so hard she could hardly talk. "My family died ... my older sister, my older brother. I'm the only one left." The UN-backed tribunal—10 years and $100 million in the making—has sought to find justice for victims of the Khmer Rouge regime that killed an estimated 1.7 million people who died from starvation, medical neglect, slave-like working conditions, and execution between 1975 and 1979. The group's top leader, Pol Pot, died in 1998. Four other senior Khmer Rouge leaders are awaiting trial. Some legal experts said the tribunal may have acted more leniently with Duch because they were saving the worst punishment for members of the regime's inner clique.