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U.N.-backed tribunal indicts 4 Khmer Rouge leaders

PHNOM PENH (Reuters) - A U.N.-backed war crimes tribunal has indicted four senior leaders of the Khmer Rouge regime blamed for the deaths of more than 1.7 million Cambodians three decades ago, a court official said on Thursday.

The trials of former President Khieu Samphan, the regime’s second in command, Nuon Chea, ex-Foreign Minister Ieng Sary and his wife, Ieng Thirith are expected early next year after a three-year investigation involving 2,000 victims.

Pol Pot, architect of the 1975-1979 “killing fields” ultra-Maoist revolution, died in 1998 of natural causes.

Charges against the quartet include crimes against humanity, war crimes and genocide.

The announcement came two months after the court delivered an inaugural verdict that outraged Cambodians, ruling that Kaing Guek Eav, a former prison chief better known as Duch, serve less than half of the 40-year sentence sought by prosecutors.

He oversaw the deaths of more than 14,000 people as head of Phnom Penh’s notorious S-21 prison.

Many Cambodians say they fear the top commanders might never see justice because of their frail health and the complexity of their cases.

There are also concerns about political interference in the process and a lack of cooperation by Cambodia’s government. Many former Khmer Rouge cadres hold senior positions in the current administration.

Justice advocates fear politicians might try to meddle with the trials to avoid being implicated.

Reporting by Prak Chan Thul; Editing by Martin Petty and Ron Popeski