Khmer Rouge No. 2 gives insight to his role in Cambodia's 'killing fields'
Nuon Chea, the deputy leader of the Khmer Rouge regime blamed for 1.7 million deaths in Cambodia's 'killing fields' told the tribunal today that he carried out its policies to protect the country.
Mark Peters/Extraordinary Chambers in the Courts of Cambodia/AP
Phnom Penh, Cambodia
The second-in-command of Cambodiaâ€™s brutal Khmer Rouge regime told a war crimes tribunal today that he was a patriot who fought to free his country from colonialism and foreign invasion, giving insight to his role in the death of 1.7 million people in the 1970s.
â€śI had to leave my family behind to liberate my motherland from colonialism and aggression and oppression by the thieves who wish to steal our land and wipe Cambodia off the face of the earth,â€ť Nuon Chea told the court.
â€śWe wanted to free Cambodia from being a servant of other countries and we wanted to build Cambodia as a society that is clean and independent without any killing of people or genocide.â€ť
The frail octogenarian, who is accused of involvement in the deaths of at least 1.7 million people during the Khmer Rougeâ€™s 1975-79 rule, addressed his hour-long speech to â€śmy beloved Cambodian people.â€ť
Nuon Chea is being tried alongside Khieu Samphan, the former Khmer Rouge head of state, and ex-foreign minister Ieng Sary. The three octogenarians face a raft of charges, including genocide, war crimes, and crimes against humanity. A fourth defendant, Ieng Thirith, the former minister of social affairs, has been ruled unfit to stand trial.
Nuon Cheaâ€™s address came after prosecutors gave a grisly and vividly detailed summary of Cambodia under the Khmer Rouge, describing it as â€śa massive slave camp.â€ť In his opening statements today, international co-prosecutor Andrew Cayley told the court not be tempted by feelings of sympathy for the old men who had â€śmurdered, tortured, and terrorizedâ€ť their own people.
After toppling a US-based regime on April 17, 1975, the Khmer Rouge â€“ led by â€śBrother No 1â€ť Pol Pot â€“ forcibly evacuated the capital Phnom Penh and put Cambodians to work in vast rural labor communes.
Hundreds of thousands died from overwork, starvation, and summary execution as the regime embarked on a series of brutal internal purges. The Khmer Rouge were eventually toppled by a Vietnamese invasion in early 1979.
During his remarks, Chea repeatedly accused Vietnam of plotting to â€śswallowâ€ť Cambodia. He also turned his blame on the protracted US bombing of eastern Cambodia in the early 1970s, saying Washington tried to â€śsuppress the movement of struggle of the Indochinese people.â€ť
Anne Heindel, a legal adviser at the Documentation Center of Cambodia, which researches Khmer Rouge atrocities, says Nuon Cheaâ€™s comments offered a fascinating insight into the mind of the aged ideologue. â€śIn his view he was defending the nation from the Vietnameseâ€¦ This is the way he sees the world.â€ť
Though there was a glaring lack of reference to the human suffering brought on by his regimeâ€™s policies, Ms. Heindel says it was vital the frail leader broke his silence and addressed survivors in person. â€śItâ€™s a tremendously important part of the process,â€ť she says.
The trial continues tomorrow with opening statements from defence lawyers. The first section of the trial, focusing on the establishment of the Khmer Rouge regime and the forced evacuation of Phnom Penh, begins next month.Â