Police arrested former Khmer Rouge head of state Khieu Samphan shortly after 11 am Monday, escorting him in a six car convoy to a special detention center at the Extraordinary Chambers in the Courts of Cambodia.
By Monday evening, the court had not officially stated the charges against him, though a source close to the court said he was likely to face charges of war crimes and crimes against humanity.
Khieu Samphan, 76, is the last of the five top Khmer Rouge leaders tribunal prosecutors fingered for investigation to be arrested.
Nuon Chea, Pol Pot’s most trusted deputy; Kaing Guek Eav, the chief of the S-21 torture prison; Ieng Sary, the Khmer Rouge’s minister of foreign affairs; and his wife, Ieng Thirith, who served as minister of social action, are already in detention at the ECCC.
“The arrest of Khieu Samphan has ended the long political and military battle between the CPP and the Khmer Rouge,” Documentation Center of Cambodia Director Youk Chhang said. “Now we will have peace in Cambodia,” he said.
Cambodian attorney Say Bory and French attorney Jacques Verges will represent Khieu Samphan, said the tribunal’s principal defender, Rupert Skilbeck. Khieu Samphan has claimed that he does not have enough money to pay his lawyers, so the court will cover his legal costs until an assessment of his financial means can be made, likely by the end of the year, Skilbeck said.
Say Bory became the first president of the Cambodian Bar Association in 1995. He served on the Constitutional Council from 1998 to 2004, when he returned to private practice. He is also a legal adviser to retired King Norodom Sihanouk, according to the court’s defense support section.
Jacques Verges, who has been nicknamed the “devil’s advocate,” has been a member of the Paris bar since 1955. He has defended numerous notorious suspects, including Nazi war criminal Klaus Barbie and Ilich Ramirez Sanchez, the Venezuela-born terrorist better known as Carlos the Jackal.
Verges first met Khieu Samphan and Saloth Sar, later known as Pol Pot, during his student days in Paris in the 1950s.
Khieu Samphan collapsed at his Pailin home last Tuesday, and was flown by government helicopter to Calmette Hospital in Phnom Penh Wednesday, where he had remained under armed guard until his arrest.
Anti-terrorism police, dressed in black and armed with automatic weapons, arrived at Calmette shortly before 11 am Monday. They encircled a dark green Ford SUV with police plates waiting at the back entrance to Calmette’s Hun Sen pavilion, where Khieu Samphan had been recuperating.
Just after 11, police forced some two dozen journalists hoping to catch a glimpse of the aging Khmer Rouge leader to leave a hospital cafe behind the pavilion.
At 11:10, police discreetly loaded Khieu Samphan into the Ford truck. Five minutes later, he left the hospital premises and arrived at the court about 30 minutes later, where he sat for an initial interview with the tribunal’s co-investigating judges.
Khieu Samphan’s daughter, Khieu Rathana said she learned of her father’s arrest at lunchtime. “I feel sorry for him because he is old,” she said. “I already prepared myself for a long time. I am not surprised about the arrest,” she added.
Khieu Samphan’s wife, So Socheat, declined comment.
Kong Duong, who ran a Khmer Rouge radio station and now directs Pailin’s Department of Information, said he hopes the testimony of all the tribunal defendants will establish a clear historical record.
“They should not hide. They are old. If they die, they will bury the history and the younger generation will not be able to study it,” he said.
Khieu Samphan has steadfastly maintained his innocence, though he has conceded that arrests and killings, some of them misguided, took place under the Khmer Rouge.
Khieu Samphan was born in Svay Rieng province and studied on scholarship in Paris in the 1950s, where he joined the Marxist circle of Cambodian students that would form the core of the Khmer Rouge leadership.
He received a doctorate in economics from the University of Paris in 1959, and returned to Phnom Penh, where he ran a leftist newspaper called L’Observateur.
He served as Secretary of State for Commerce under then Prince Sihanouk, but after conservatives consolidated their influence over the government in 1966, Khieu Samphan was beaten for his “leftist” agitation and fled Phnom Penh.
Khieu Samphan has sought refuge in his reputation as the Khmer Rouge’s leading intellectual, and in a 2001 letter described himself as having little real power.
He argued that the very things that qualified him to serve as a spokesman for the regime on the international stage – his elevated social class and erudition – meant he was not trusted by the inner sanctum of the Khmer Rouge.
Scholars, however, have said he was a member of the highest decision making bodies of the Khmer Rouge and, at minimum, knew of the atrocities being perpetrated and did nothing to stop them.
In his second book, released last week, Khieu Samphan defended the radical Communist regime as a popular revolt that exploded against wide social and economic inequities of 1960s Cambodia.
He also reaffirmed his commitment to communist ideals. “My ideas still remain the same,” he wrote. “For my own thinking, I have confidence in communism. It’s the only way for the country to benefit and the people to get independence, integrity, dignity, happiness.”