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Logo of Phnom Penh Post newspaper Phnom Penh Post - Disorder in the court as hearing ends in disarray

Disorder in the court as hearing ends in disarray

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Defence lawyers challenge prosecutors to informal debate

ECCC POOL PHOTO/AFP

Former KR head of state Khieu Samphan in the dock at the ECCC on Thursday.

FORMER Khmer Rouge head of state Khieu Samphan told judges at the Khmer Rouge tribunal Thursday that he did "not understand" why he was standing trial for crimes against humanity during an appeals hearing that ended in disarray, as defence lawyers argued heatedly with visibly upset victims outside the courtroom.

"I have always worked on the side of my country," the frail-looking septuagenarian told judges. "I don't understand why I am being charged with crimes against humanity."

Co-lawyers Jacques Verges and Sa Sovan, who profess to speak only Khmer and French, were appealing an earlier court decision that denied full translation of their client's case file to French, claiming it prevented a fair trial.

"There are 60,000 documents in this case, and so far only 2.5 percent have been translated into French," Verges told the court. "The UN secretary general agreed with me that all documents need to be translated into the three working languages, but perhaps the president of the tribunal would like to tell the UN to get a new secretary general?"

Co-prosecutors argued it was only necessary for the accused person to understand the documents, not his lawyers, suggesting that Khieu Samphan could get a different counsel.

"The prosecution is mocking me," retorted Verges, who has made a career of defending some of history's most notorious criminals, including Nazi Klaus Barbie.

Khieu Samphan told the court he was sick and unable to think clearly, claiming that "if my counsel had been able to understand these documents, then my detention might not have been extended".  A ruling is expected at a later date.

At a press conference after the hearing, Verges and Sa Sovan invited the co-prosecutors to participate in a debate outside the court, leading to a bitter row between Sa Sovan and angered victims in the crowd.  

"You, co-lawyer, you speak too much. Why not let the victims speak too? We are here but cannot speak," one woman shouted. "My parents were killed during the Khmer Rouge  regime. How can you ... say he did not kill people?"

Sa Sovan replied that his mother had also died under the regime, as he and Verges left the room escorted by court officials.  

"We don't want a trial through the media," co-prosecutor William Smith told reporters after the incident, adding there were only 3,000 documents still to translate. 

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