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Stiffer penalty sought for Khmer Rouge torturer

Prosecutors in Cambodia urged a U.N.-backed tribunal Tuesday to stiffen the sentence against the Khmer Rouge's chief jailer to life in prison and to convict him of new, separate crimes against humanity.

The arguments came on the second day of appeal hearings for Kaing Guek Eav — also known as Duch — who was sentenced last July to 35 years in prison for war crimes and crimes against humanity during the "killing fields" regime of the 1970s.

His sentence was reduced to a 19-year term due to time served and other technicalities, prompting an appeal from prosecutors and angry criticism from victims who called the penalty too lenient.

The 68-year-old Duch headed the Khmer Rouge's notorious Tuol Sleng prison, known as S-21, where only a handful of prisoners survived. Up to 16,000 people were tortured under Duch's command and later taken away to be killed.

The extreme communist Khmer Rouge forced the entire population to work in agricultural collectives during their 1975-1979 rule that left 1.7 million Cambodians dead from torture, starvation and disease.

Prosecutors argued Tuesday that Duch's crimes should not have been wrapped into the broad charge of crimes against humanity. Instead, they said, he should have been prosecuted for distinct offenses including overseeing rape, torture and enslavement as crimes against humanity, which would have allowed for a longer prison sentence.

The court's initial conviction "does not recognize all the interests that were ruptured by this man nor does it serve posterity, truth or reconciliation for this country as record for what happened," prosecutor Andrew Cayley said. "What does it say to the future generations about what this man did to his own people?"

"You must impose a life term, reduced to no less than 45 years," Cayley told the court, effectively requesting to keep Duch behind bars until he is at least 113. "It is for the Cambodian people — their need for justice, their need for retribution, their need for reconciliation."

Families of victims have expressed outrage that the initial sentence could allow Duch to one day walk free.

Cayley argued that international tribunals in Yugoslavia and Rwanda gave life sentences to people convicted of killing or torturing fewer people over shorter periods of time than Duch.

Defense lawyers, meanwhile, are seeking a lesser sentence for Duch. The defense argued Tuesday that Duch, a former school teacher, was himself a victim of the Khmer Rouge leaders.

"He had no other choice than to implement the orders, otherwise he would have been killed," defense attorney Kang Ritheary told the court. "If you were in his shoes, in 1979 ... what would you do?"

The sentence imposed by the court showed "the international community that the court was nothing but a venue for vengeance," Duch's lawyer said. He added that rape was not systematic at S-21, saying that Duch reacted to rape cases by replacing male interrogators with females.

The appeals process is scheduled to wrap up this week, with a decision expected in a few months.

Four other senior Khmer Rouge leaders are awaiting trial later this year: Nuon Chea, the Khmer Rouge's chief ideologist; Khieu Samphan, its former head of state; Ieng Sary, its foreign minister; and his wife Ieng Thirith, who was minister for social affairs.

All four are in their 70s and 80s and in poor health. The Khmer Rouge's top leader, Pol Pot, died in 1998.