'Citizen reporters' spread the word on Khmer Rouge trial

'Citizen reporters' spread the word on Khmer Rouge trial

PHNOM PENH - Un Chhouen left his farm long before dawn, eager to ensure he was on time for Cambodia's Khmer Rouge tribunal, where the former regime's top leaders are on trial.

His task was clear: to absorb proceedings from the public gallery in the case of the regime's two surviving leaders and relay the highlights to friends and neighbours back in his remote village - plugging the information vacuum left by the mainstream Khmer press as interest in the long-running trial wanes.

The 64-year-old farmer is one of thousands of citizen reporters who have been asked to spread the news from the UN-backed tribunal - an uphill battle given widespread indifference to the complex legal proceedings, among citizens and officials eager to put the country's bloody past behind them.

From novice monks to battle-scarred former soldiers, thousands of Cambodians have been invited to the trial, which is being held on the outskirts of Phnom Penh.

While they have no formal reporting role, the observers take pride in spreading the word on the trial proceedings.

In the dock are "Brother Number Two" Nuon Chea, 87, and former head of state Khieu Samphan, 82 - the sole surviving leaders of the regime who are on trial for crimes committed during the Khmer Rouge's 1975-1979 rule.

Taking up the invite on Wednesday, Un Chhouen donned a simple blue shirt and flip-flops before boarding a bus chartered specially for the hearing.

"The commune chief asked me to come to represent the village," he said proudly.

"I did not believe in the ideas of the Khmer Rouge. But we knew nothing, we were ignorant," the former soldier said, adding he had fought unwillingly in the Khmer Rouge's ranks until 1971.

Some two million people, or about a quarter of the Cambodian population, died of starvation, disease, overwork or torture and execution under the regime.

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