Ex-Khmer Rouge figure faces war crimes charges
PHNOM PENH, Cambodia - Cambodia's most senior surviving Khmer Rouge leader was arrested and charged with crimes against humanity yesterday - three decades after the regime left 1.7 million people dead through starvation, overwork, and execution.
Khmer Rouge ideologist Nuon Chea, the top aide to late leader Pol Pot, was arrested at his home in northwestern Pailin near the Thai border and flown to Phnom Penh, where he was put in the custody of a UN-backed tribunal.
The tribunal is investigating abuses committed when the communist Khmer Rouge held power from 1975 to 1979. A statement released by the tribunal said its judges had placed Nuon Chea in "provisional detention" after charging him "for crimes against humanity and war crimes."
"Now the time has come for him to share his version of the history of Khmer Rouge before the court of law," said Youk Chhang, director of the Documentation Center of Cambodia, an independent group researching Khmer Rouge crimes.
"So many people have died. The facts are everywhere. There are plenty of mass graves, prisons, documents, photographs that can show what he did at that time," Youk Chhang said.
Police surrounded Nuon Chea's home and served him with an arrest warrant after closing off surrounding roads. Officers then took the 82-year-old - who denies any wrongdoing - into custody, as his son and dozens of onlookers watched in silence.
"My father is happy to shed light on the Khmer Rouge regime for the world and people to understand," said his son, Nuon Say.
Nuon Chea joined the Khmer Rouge in the 1950s in its formative stages as Cambodia's underground communist party and became its chief political ideologue and right-hand man to Pol Pot.
Prosecutors for the tribunal said they have recommended trials for five Khmer Rouge figures. Nuon Chea is the second, and highest-ranking, leader to be detained.
Kaing Guek Eav, also known as Duch, who headed the former Khmer Rouge S-21 torture center, was the first suspect detained. He was charged on July 31 with crimes against humanity. The other suspects have not been publicly named. Pol Pot died in 1998.
Duch has implicated Nuon Chea in atrocities. According to a transcript of Duch's interrogation after his arrest in 1999, he said Nuon Chea had "direct command" over S-21.
"Nuon Chea had them sent directly to me," Duch said in the interview, a transcript of which was obtained by the Associated Press.
Nuon Chea has consistently denied any responsibility for the regime's mass brutality. He has said he was ready to face the tribunal.
"I admit that there was a mistake. But I had my ideology. I wanted to free my country. I wanted people to have well-being," Nuon Chea said in 2004. "I didn't use wisdom to find the truth of what was going on, to check who was doing wrong and who was doing right. I accept that error."