The story of former Khmer Rouge leader Khieu Samphan, as told by Khieu Samphan, is scheduled to arrive in book stores today.
The former head of state for Democratic Kampuchea denies involvement in his regime’s mass killing and portrays himself as a noble-hearted nationalist in his 200-page book, available only in Khmer in Cambodia so far.
“When I accepted the position of president of Democratic Kampuchea, I believed that I was not a representative of the Khmer Rouge, but I was a representative of the whole Cambodian nation,” Khieu Samphan wrote.
More than 1 million people were brutally exterminated, died from disease, starvation and forced labor under the ultra-communist Khmer Rouge government between 1975 and 1979.
In February, the aging revolutionary told the Kyodo news agency that the purpose of his book was to “inform the public prior to the [UN] court set up, so that people will better understand my role and position.”
The surviving leaders of the Khmer Rouge are scheduled to be tried for war crimes and crimes against humanity in a special tribunal, possibly later this year, according to government and UN officials who are working to establish the courts.
The book, “The Recent History of Cambodia and My Successive Positions,” contains an introductory note by Jacques Verges, Khieu Samphan’s French lawyer, which might offer a preview of the defense’s argument in that trial.
“Mr Khieu Samphan did not directly take part in that killing at all. The Khmer Rouge killers just kept Mr Khieu Samphan as a fellow traveler who walked on the one road with them. How is this stance different from [King Norodom] Sihanouk’s stance? What is different is social ranking. Who can suspect that Samdech Sihanouk protected the Khmer Rouge?” Verges wrote.
The attorney, famed for his defenses of ex-SS officer Klaus Barbie and terrorist Carlos the Jackal, went on to cite precedents in which high-ranking officials in the cruel regimes such as Josef Stalin’s and Adolf Hitler’s went unpunished.
“How can they charge Mr Khieu Samphan for the crimes of the Khmer Rouge regime, because they allowed the United States, which is responsible for destroying [then Prince] Sihanouk’s regime by supporting Lon Nol’s regime, to sow the misery of the war that spread into Cambodia?” Verges concluded.
Youk Chhang, director of the Documentation Center of Cambodia, on Thursday called the book a one-sided, pre-trial defense.
“I think it is a piece of propaganda, not a piece of history,” Youk Chhang said.
“We all know [Khieu Samphan] has his own version of history.”
Youk Chhang said that he did not expect Cambodians to show much interest in the book because “we all know what will be said.”
But several book vendors said otherwise on Thursday.
“I have had more than 10 people ask for Khieu Samphan’s book,” said Chan Ratana, 21, who runs a book stall near Independence Monument.
“Sometimes books like this are strong sellers, like ‘Hun Sen: Strongman of Cambodia.’ That was a good seller,” she said.
Ouk Kalyan, 18, said there had been several inquiries about the book at her stall too. She said she is looking forward to reading it.
“I do not know much about Khieu Samphan. I have just heard about him from the old people,” she said.
“The people say he is a criminal, a killer. He is the one who killed Cambodian people.”
While Khieu Samphan’s book refutes that charge, it does not ignore the bloodshed caused by the Khmer Rouge.
“I do not deny that the country has to inherit the revenge and horror left over from the revolutionary movement that turned into an extremist movement, more brutal than any revolutionary movement we have heard of before. It cost peoples lives and suffering without end,” the author wrote.
“Do I have to share responsibility in this horrible event? What did I do to stay alive when other people passed away?” he asked.
“After reading what is on the previous pages, I would like my compatriots to judge me.”