Ex-Leader: Khmer Rouge Not ‘Bad People’

Posted December 5th, 2011 at 10:10 am (UTC-5)
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The former number two leader of Cambodia’s Khmer Rouge regime is denying responsibility for the deaths of an estimated 1.7 million people during the 1970s, insisting that he and his comrades were not “bad people.”

Nuon Chea’s testimony came Monday in a packed courtroom in Phnom Penh, as a United Nations-backed war crimes tribunal began hearing evidence in the long-awaited trial.

The 85-year-old Nuon Chea, who was chief ideologue for the communist movement, and his co-defendants all deny charges of war crimes, genocide and crimes against humanity during the regime’s 1975-1979 reign. Khmer Rouge leader Pol Pot died in 1998.

Nuon Chea insisted that no Cambodian was responsible for atrocities. He sought to shift the blame to Vietnam, which invaded Cambodia in 1978 and toppled the Khmer Rouge regime a year later.

Khieu Samphan also is expected to testify within the next two weeks. In opening remarks last month, he identified himself as a Cambodian patriot who was unaware of the mass killings at the time.

Defendant Ieng Sary says he will not participate in the trial until the tribunal issues a ruling on an amnesty he received from Cambodian King Norodom Sihanouk in 1996. That pardon was issued after Ieng Sary led a mass defection of Khmer rouge guerrillas to the government.

A fourth defendant, ex-social minister Ieng Thirith, has been ruled unfit to stand trial because she has Alzheimer’s disease.

The trial is the showcase event for the tribunal, which was created to demonstrate impartial justice and foster national healing.

Earlier this year, the tribunal split the complex proceedings into a series of smaller trials, after widespread complaints that some or all of the defendants, who are ailing and in their 80s, would not live to see a verdict in a single trial that analysts say could have lasted 10 years.

In its only previous case, the court last year convicted Kaing Guek Eav, better known as Duch, who ran the regime’s main prison and torture house. He was sentenced to 35 years in prison, a term the tribunal later reduced to 19 years after applying credit for time already served in detention. That sentence reduction remains under appeal.