Defence lawyers at Cambodia's Khmer Rouge court on Tuesday denounced the trial of two former top regime leaders as a "showcase" that had pre-judged them as guilty.

Prosecutors are demanding the maximum sentence of life imprisonment for "Brother Number Two" Nuon Chea, 87, and ex-head of state Khieu Samphan, 82, for their roles in a regime that left up to two million people dead from 1975-79.

The trial is "a showcase of the conclusion that everyone involved wanted and expected from the day the tribunal was constituted," said Nuon Chea's lawyer, Victor Koppe, claiming that "no one in this court is interested in ascertaining the truth".

Delivering its closing statement to the UN-backed tribunal, the defence said political interference had prevented it from obtaining evidence to support its case.

It also argued that if the defendants were guilty as charged, then so were other former Khmer Rouge cadres including Cambodian's current strongman premier, Hun Sen.

"Prime Minister Hun Sen, Senate Chairman Chea Sim, and President of the National Assembly Heng Samrin all took active roles in carrying out the policies which the co-prosecutors say today were criminal as such," Koppe said.

"If Nuon Chea is guilty, so too are they," he added. "If Nuon Chea enslaved the Cambodian population, then these three men whose faces hang everywhere… in Phnom Penh were his loyal executioners."

Hun Sen was once a low-level Khmer Rouge commander but defected in 1977 to join Vietnamese forces fighting to overthrow the regime. He is opposed to pursuing more regime suspects.

The complex case of the regime's two most senior surviving leaders has been split into a series of smaller trials, initially focusing on the forced evacuation of people into rural labour camps and related charges of crimes against humanity.

The evacuation of Phnom Penh in April 1975 was one of the largest forced migrations in modern history.

More than two million people were expelled from the capital at gunpoint and marched to rural labour camps as part of the regime's plan to forge an agrarian utopia.

Closing statements in the trial are scheduled to be completed by the end of the month, with a verdict expected in the first half of next year.

The defendants deny charges of war crimes, crimes against humanity and genocide.

The allegations of genocide and war crimes are due to be heard in later hearings although no date has yet been set.

Led by Pol Pot, who died in 1998, the communist Khmer Rouge regime wiped out up to a quarter of the population through executions, starvation and overwork.

 

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