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Nuon Chea, who is known as Brother No. 2 for being Pol Pot’s trusted deputy, had also denied responsibility, testifying in 2011 that Vietnamese forces — not the Khmer Rouge — had killed Cambodians en masse. “I don’t want them to believe the Khmer Rouge are bad people, are criminals,” he said of those observing to the trial. “Nothing is true about that.”

Because of the advanced age and poor health of the defendants, the case against them was divided into separate smaller trials in an effort to render justice before they die.

Both men now face a second trial that is due to start in September or October, this time on charges of genocide, Olsen said. That trial is expected to take years to complete.

Amnesty International called the verdict “a crucial step toward justice.” But it also noted several “troubling” obstacles the tribunal faced — including the refusal of senior Cambodian government officials to give evidence and allegations of political interference. It called for the remaining cases to be completed “in a timely and fair manner without political interference.”

A female survivor, 58-year-old Khuth Vouern, said she felt a sense of relief that justice was finally served, even if it was generations late.

“I have been waiting for this day for many years,” said the woman, whose husband and several other family members were killed during the Khmer rouge reign. “Now, for the first time, my mind feels at least some degree of peace.”

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Associated Press writer Jocelyn Gecker in Bangkok, Thailand, contributed to this report.