Top Khmer Rouge accused seeks acquittal

Agence France-Presse
Nuon Chea says he carried out his "duty to serve my country and my beloved people"

PHNOM PENH, Cambodia – The top surviving leader of Cambodia’s Khmer Rouge expressed a “moral responsibility” Thursday, October 31, to victims of the regime, but urged a UN-backed court to acquit him of crimes against humanity.

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 in the late 1970s.

Nuon Chea told the country’s UN-backed tribunal in his final statement before a verdict that he had carried out his “duty to serve my country and my beloved people”.

“Through this trial it has been shown clearly that I was not engaged in any commission of the crimes as alleged by the co-prosecutors. In short, I am innocent in relation to those allegations,” he said.

He blamed everything on “treacherous” subordinates.

Ngor An, 69, who lost more than 10 relatives including three children under the Khmer Rouge, described Nuon Chea as a “coward” for not admitting his guilt.

“I am angry with what he said. He must be jailed for life,” he said after watching the court proceedings.

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.

The two defendants both insist they were unaware of the atrocities committed by the regime.

“I would like to express my deepest remorse and moral responsibility to victims and the Cambodian people who suffered during the Democratic Kampuchea (Khmer Rouge) regime,” Nuon Chea said.

But he added that based on the evidence presented to the court, “I respectfully submit to your honors to acquit me from all the charges and accordingly release me.”

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.

More than two million people were expelled from Phnom Penh in April 1975 at gunpoint and marched to rural labor camps in one of the largest forced migrations in modern history.

The defendants deny charges of war crimes, crimes against humanity and genocide, to the dismay of survivors and relatives of victims.

“We cannot accept his apology. He lied to us. He wanted to be acquitted. He did not care about others,” said Bin Sivla, 55, who lost 11 relatives under the regime.

“If he did not give the order, his subordinates would not have dared to kill,” she said, describing the Khmer Rouge leaders as “worse than monsters”.

“Monsters would kill only a few people, but they killed millions of people.”

The closing statements were scheduled to end on Thursday with a verdict expected in the first half of next year.

The kingdom does not use the death penalty so life imprisonment is the toughest sentence that the court can hand down.

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

The trial, which began hearing evidence in late 2011, is widely seen as a landmark in the nation’s quest for justice.

Another defendant, former foreign minister Ieng Sary, died aged 87 in March this year, while the case against his wife Ieng Thirith – also an ex-minister – was suspended after the court ruled dementia left her unfit to stand trial.

In its historic first trial, the court in 2010 sentenced former prison chief Kaing Guek Eav to 30 years in prison – later increased to life on appeal – for overseeing the deaths of 15,000 people. –

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