PHNOM PENH - Cambodia's Khmer Rouge trial entered a crucial phase on Wednesday with closing statements in the case of former regime leaders accused of masterminding one of the worst horrors of the 20th century.
More than three decades after the country's "Killing Fields" era, the UN-backed court is moving closer to a verdict in the case of "Brother Number Two" Nuon Chea, 87, and ex-head of state Khieu Samphan, 82.
Lawyer Pich Ang, representing victims, described the Khmer Rouge as "one of the most heinous regimes history has ever known".
Led by "Brother Number One" Pol Pot, who died in 1998, the communist Khmer Rouge wiped out up to two million people through starvation, overwork and execution in the late 1970s.
The trial, which began hearing evidence in late 2011, is widely seen as a landmark in the nation's quest for justice.
The defendants deny charges of war crimes, crimes against humanity and genocide.
Around 500 Cambodians, including former regime cadres, watched the trial from the public gallery on Wednesday, according to an AFP reporter.
Nuon Chea left the courtroom after 20 minutes and was allowed to follow proceedings from a holding room. His co-defendant remained, although his eyes at times appeared to be closed.
Their complex case has been split into a series of smaller trials, starting with the forced evacuation of the population into rural labour camps and the related charges of crimes against humanity.
The closing statements in the first mini-trial started with lawyers for the "civil parties" that represent thousands of plaintiffs and will be followed by the prosecution and the defence.
Civil party lawyers alleged the defendants had intimate knowledge of the Khmer Rouge's "elimination" policy through deliberate starvation and of the persecution of those branded "class enemies".
Many of those deemed to be regime enemies still "face nightmares... and constant mental suffering after witnessing torture and killing, including of their own relatives," lawyer Sam Sokong told the court.
The statements are scheduled to be completed by the end of the month, with a verdict expected in the first half of next year.
The court has been hit by delays caused by money shortages, staff walkouts, alleged political interference as well as the poor health of the accused.