Top Pol Pot accomplice Nuon Chea left to die in jail as final appeal turned down

Hun Sen fears wider prosecution of Khmer Rouge era leaders would trigger civil unrest.

Top Pol Pot accomplice Nuon Chea left to die in jail as final appeal turned down
Former Khmer Rouge leader Nuon Chea sitting at the Extraordinary Chambers in the Courts of Cambodia (ECCC) during an announcement of the judgement on the appeals in Case 002/01 against former Khmer Rouge leaders Nuon Chea and Khieu Samphan, on the outskirts of Phnom Penh, Cambodia, November 23, 2016 in this handout provided by the Extraordinary Chambers in the Courts of Cambodia. Nhet Sokheng/Extraordinary Chambers in the Courts of Cambodia/Handout via REUTERS

Life sentences for two top Khmer Rouge leaders, Nuon Chea and Khieu Samphan, were upheld by Cambodia's UN-backed court on Wednesday, foreclosing hopes that the 90-year-old "Brother Number Two" could spend his last days in freedom.

Nuon Chea and Khieu Samphan, 85, were part of Pol Pot's dreaded regime that has been held responsible for the death of up to two million Cambodians from 1975-1979. After being jailed in 2014, the Khmer Rouge leaders appealed their conviction, saying the judges' personal experiences in the turbulent times colored the judgments.

However, their appeals were turned down by the Extraordinary Chambers in the Courts of Cambodia (ECCC), after a lengthy trial. The two ex leaders had "a complete lack of consideration for the ultimate fate of the Cambodian population," Supreme Court Chamber's top judge Kong Srim said in the verdict, the South China Morning Post said.

"The Supreme Court Chamber considers that the imposition of a life sentence for each of the accused is appropriate," the verdict said, adding that the scale of their crimes was "massive".

"The gravity of the crimes should be reflected in the sentence ... the crimes were not isolated events but occurred over an extended period of time," the Court added while confirming their life sentence.

Among the crimes Nuon Chea and Khieu Samphan committed were the mass killing of soldiers and the forced evacuation of two million people into labour camps that resulted in tens of thousands o deaths. The Pol Pot era veterans are also undergoing another trial for genocide of ethnic Vietnamese and Muslim minorities.

While "Brother Number One" Pol Pot died in 1998 without facing trial, other accomplices like Ieng Sary and Ieng Thirith, died during the trial. A wider-scale prosecution of the accomp0lices of the dreaded regime has been hampered by the alleged lack of cooperation from the Hun Sen-led Cambodian People's Party government.

Local media reported that Prime Minister Hun Sen had threatened the shutting down of the tribunal if more defendants were prosecuted. The prime minister, whose party's rank and file share a common background of past ties with the Khmer Rouge, fears that wider prosecution would trigger civil unrest.