PHNOM PENH, Cambodia - A U.N.-backed tribunal sentenced the Khmer Rouge's chief jailer to 35 years for overseeing the deaths of as many as 16,000 people - the first verdict involving a senior member of the "killing fields" regime that devastated a generation of Cambodians.
Victims and their relatives burst into tears after learning that Kaing Guek Eav - also known as Duch - will actually serve only 19 years after being convicted of war crimes and crimes against humanity after taking into account time already served and other factors.
That means the 67-year-old could one day walk free, a prospect that infuriated many who have been demanding justice for victims of the regime that killed an estimated 1.7 million people between 1975-79.
"I can't accept this," said Saodi Ouch, 46, shaking so hard she could hardly talk. "My family died . . . I'm the only one left."
"It's just unacceptable to have a man who killed thousands of people serving just 19 years," said Theary Seng, a human rights lawyer who lost both of her parents.
More than three decades after the ultra-communist Khmer Rouge killed a quarter of Cambodia's population while trying to turn the country into a vast agrarian collective, Duch is so far the only person to face justice. The group's top leader, Pol Pot, died in 1998 and four other senior Khmer Rouge leaders are awaiting trial for their part in the deaths from execution, starvation, medical neglect and slave-like working conditions.
The UN-backed tribunal - 10 years and $100 million in the making - said it took into consideration the historical context of the atrocities: The regime was the product of the troubled Cold War times.
It also recognized that Duch, who headed Tuol Sleng, a secret detention center, had cooperated with the court, admitted responsibility and showed "limited" expressions of remorse.