PHNOM PENH (AFP) — The former Khmer Rouge foreign minister appeared for a second straight day before the UN-backed Cambodian genocide court on Tuesday, hoping to be freed before his trial even begins.
Ieng Sary, 82, is one of five top cadres currently detained for crimes allegedly committed during the Khmer Rouge regime's murderous rule over Cambodia from 1975-79.
Established in 2006, the joint Cambodia-UN tribunal is expected to hold its first trial later this year, after nearly a decade of haggling to try to bring those responsible for crimes committed during the regime to justice.
Lawyers defending Ieng Sary against charges of war crimes and crimes against humanity argued that he should not stand trial because he has already been convicted of genocide and received a royal pardon.
"No one should be punished again for an offence for which he has already been convicted or acquitted," lawyer Ang Udom told the packed courtroom.
"There should be no investigation or prosecution against Ieng Sary."
Ieng Sary was convicted of genocide in a 1979 trial in absentia conducted by the government installed after Vietnam occupied the country and ended the Khmer Rouge's bloody reign.
However he was pardoned in 1996 upon surrendering to the government.
"We believe that it would be double jeopardy and Cambodian law does apply -- that Mr Ieng Sary cannot be tried again for the same crimes or the same charges twice," said Ieng Sary's other defence lawyer, Michael Karnavas.
Prosecutors responded that double jeopardy does not protect Ieng Sary because he is not accused of genocide in his current trial. They also argued that his earlier conviction was not handed out at a proper trial.
The court that convicted him of genocide was "not competent enough to prosecute crimes of an international nature," said prosecutor Yet Chakriya.
A lawyer representing victims of the regime demanded Ieng Sary stand trial, saying his earlier trial had been a political gimmick by the government then in power.
"The 1979 tribunal did not meet international standards," said lawyer Silke Studzinsky.
Ieng Sary's past conviction, and the amnesty for it, pose one of the trickiest issues to face the judges at the tribunal, which operates on a mixture of Cambodian and international law.
Fears over his health also hang over the court. His hearing Monday adjourned earlier than expected after a doctor told judges he was too ill to continue.
His lawyers have argued Ieng Sary should be placed under house arrest to ensure he remains healthy enough for a trial, expected to begin within a year.
Ieng Sary has been hospitalised several times for a heart condition, but the prosecution says the health issues are a ploy to delay the trial.
Up to two million people died of starvation and overwork, or were executed, when the Khmer Rouge emptied Cambodia's cities in a murderous drive to create an agrarian utopia.
As the top Khmer Rouge diplomat, Ieng Sary was frequently the only point of contact between Cambodia's secretive communist rulers and the outside world.
He was also one of the biggest public supporters of the regime's mass purges, researchers say.
His wife Thirith, who also became a Khmer Rouge minister, was arrested with him in November.
Other defendants at the tribunal also face worsening health, with many in their 70s and 80s. Khmer Rouge figurehead Pol Pot died in 1998.
The other former leaders in jail awaiting trial are "Brother Number Two" Nuon Chea, former head of state Khieu Samphan, and Kaing Guek Eav or "Duch", who ran the S-21 torture centre in Phnom Penh.
Duch's trial is expected to begin in September.
The process hit another hitch Tuesday as the tribunal announced that the Cambodian lawyer defending Khieu Samphan had resigned for health reasons.
Defence lawyer Say Bory had been working with French lawyer Jacques Verges, who has represented some of the world's most infamous figures.
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