pailin – Nuon Chea, the chief ideologue for the Khmer Rouge, spent the weekend as he usually does, at home in Pailin with his family and their cats and dogs.
Now 82, Nuon Chea said he was more worried about his declining health—he suffers from a swollen leg and pain in his shoulder and arms—than the upcoming trials of former Khmer Rouge leaders.
Death, he said, is approaching. “I know I will die in the future,” he said in an interview. “I will not live longer. I know it by myself because my health is getting worse every day,” he added.
Nuon Chea, known as Brother Number 2, was second only to the late Pol Pot in the Khmer Rouge hierarchy, and he believes, like many others, that he will top the list of defendants at the Khmer Rouge tribunal.
He said that because of his poor health he has had to ration his time with the rush of reporters who have come to his house since tribunal co-prosecutors announced last week that they had identified five potential defendants. “I just allow them two to five minutes for talking with me,” he said.
Court officials have not publicly released the names of the suspects.
Nuon Chea said Ieng Thirith, who served as Minister of Social Affairs for the regime of Democratic Kampuchea, should not be indicted. She is married to Ieng Sary, who was Democratic Kampuchea’s Minister of Foreign Affairs.
“Ieng Thirith should not be charged because she was not involved with any decision-making, and she was just in charge of social work,” Nuon Chea said.
“If she is charged, it is wrong. Even Ieng Sary was not involved in any decision to make arrests,” he said. “I do not protect them, but the facts are like this,” he added.
Nuon Chea acknowledged that since Pol Pot’s death in 1998, he has been the most senior surviving Khmer Rouge leader.
“I am the second person in this regime, and I have to be responsible for everything that happened in it, but I have to tell people why people died during that time,” he said.
“Don’t just try to make accusations, but try to find out what is behind this problem. If you find out by just means, everything will be resolved and it will be peaceful among all people,” he added.
He again vowed to make the court a battlefield.
“I consider this court as a fighting battlefield between patriots and invaders. I will not allow anyone to defeat me,” he said, adding that he hoped he would have adequate time to explain the regime’s policy and principles.
“I will tell people about our clean principles and that we had no policy of killing people,” he said.
He also said he would like to serve as his own lawyer, and would refuse the services of foreign counsel. “I will be a lawyer by myself and defend myself. I do not need a lawyer, but if the court arranges one for me, he must be Khmer,” Nuon Chea said.
International judges at the Extraordinary Chambers in the Courts of Cambodia have said foreign defense lawyers are an essential part of a fair trial.
Rupert Skilbeck, the tribunal’s principal defender, said Tuesday that defendants are free to waive their right to foreign counsel, but that the court’s procedural rules make no provisions for a defendant to represent himself.
“Judges will have to decide to what extent that will be allowed,” he said.
(Additional reporting Erika Kinetz)