Former Khmer Rouge leader Nuon Chea said Monday he was deeply saddened by Saturday’s execution of deposed Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein.
Nuon Chea, 81, chief lieutenant to Pol Pot and likely suspect for prosecution by the Khmer Rouge tribunal, said he was moved by television images showing Saddam’s stoicism and defiance to the end.
“The way they were treating Saddam on Saturday was too ex-treme. I really pity him,” said the former Khmer Rouge Brother No 2.
“I saw Saddam on television being brought to the hanging place. They read his biography and he was from a farmer’s family so I love him,” he said.
“Saddam Hussein had a spirit of national love,” Nuon Chea added. “He was very firm and strong and his spirit was high even though executioners were standing by him.”
Others with ties to the Khmer Rouge regime—whose former leaders are being investigated for crimes similar to those of Sad-dam—also expressed dismay over the execution and claimed the US was primarily responsible.
Pailin Deputy Municipal Gover-nor Ieng Vuth, son of former Khmer Rouge Foreign Minister Ieng Sary, referred mockingly to the court that tried Saddam as the “Iraq Special Tribunal to the US.”
“Ask [US President George W] Bush about this,” Ieng Vuth said by telephone.
“He knows very well about this because he led armed forces and invaded Iraq, arrested Saddam and sentenced him to death,” Ieng Vuth claimed.
He declined to answer questions about the charges of genocide and crimes against humanity filed against Saddam. Instead, he said that after the fall of the Soviet Union, the US was now an un-checked power.
“The United States of America can do anything it wants. Before we had the Soviets for balance but now who is stronger than America?” he asked.
“[The US] wants to say black is white or white is black but it forgets what is going on after its victories,” he said.
Keut Sothea, also a Pailin deputy governor and a former Khmer Rouge commander, drew parallels between Iraq and Cambodia.
“Killing Saddam is not a solution for all the problems. America should reconsider and use a soft way rather than a hard one,” Keut Sothea said.
“Cambodia had war for a long time and now the government has solved it and now we have peace. We should not look at the past but ahead,” he added.
US Embassy officials in Phnom Penh could not be contacted for comment.
Bush said in statement released Saturday that Saddam received a fair trial and the type of justice that the victims of his regime were denied.
“It is a testament to the Iraqi people’s resolve to move forward after decades of oppression,” Bush said.
“This would not have been possible without the Iraqi people’s determination to create a society governed by the rule of law.”
Youk Chhang, director of the Documentation Center of Cambo-dia, said Saddam’s execution re-minded him of immediately after the fall of the Khmer Rouge in 1979, when anger was still fresh and the desire for vengeance strong.
Passions in Cambodia have cooled in the 28 years since the Khmer Rouge were driven from power, Youk Chhang said. He ad-ded that prosecuting the regime’s former leaders will be taxing but is not likely to cause instability as hanging Saddam may in Iraq.
“Vengeance took place already. It took place in ‘79,” he said. “I don’t think that disturbances will happen in Cambodia.”
Cambodia must not shy away from prosecuting Khmer Rouge perpetrators in order to achieve national reconciliation, Youk Chhang added.
“How can you forget that two million have been lost?” he asked.
“It’s a difficult, painful process but it’s one we have to confront.”
(Additional reporting by Douglas Gillison)