Nuon Chea has selected Cambodian attorney Son Arun to defend him on charges of war crimes and crimes against humanity before the Extraordinary Chambers in the Courts of Cambodia.
Son Arun said a court official called him Wednesday to inform him that Nuon Chea had requested his services.
“I was surprised. Very surprised,” he said in a Thursday interview.
“It’s going to be a headache for me, but it’s my profession,” he said, adding: “It will be hard work, but I will try my best.”
He declined to discuss any legal issues likely to arise in Nuon Chea’s defense.
Son Arun added that his client has yet to select an international attorney to help represent him before the hybrid court, but he plans to do so.
Speaking about a week before his arrest, Nuon Chea, who has said the court will be his “battlefield,” said he wanted to defend himself.
“A lawyer cannot understand about Khmer Rouge issues. How can they know it? They are not with us. How can they defend us? They don’t understand about the Khmer Rouge. So I have to do it by myself,” he said.
A source close to the proceedings said Wednesday that court officials strongly encouraged Nuon Chea to retain counsel.
The tribunal’s principal defender, Rupert Skilbeck, and his deputy, Richard Rogers, could not be reached for comment Thursday.
Son Arun has been an attorney for 11 years and said he represented Prince Norodom Ranariddh from 1998 until his October 2006 removal as Funcinpec’s president.
He said that former Khmer Rouge head of state Khieu Samphan, who was his math teacher in the mid 1960s, has also spoken with him about serving as his lawyer.
Son Arun said that he spent several hours Thursday speaking with Nuon Chea, 82, at his cell in the detention center of the ECCC.
His client, he said, is in good health and good spirits, but has asked the court to provide him with a mattress with more padding and has requested meals of fish and vegetables.
“He’s old and he gets back-aches,” Son Arun explained.
Nuon Chea’s wife, Ly Kimseng, said Thursday that her husband has also asked the court to install for him a new, taller toilet. His knees have stiffened with age, she explained, making it difficult for him to squat to use the toilet now provided.
News of Nuon Chea’s arrest continued to reverberate in his hometown of Pailin.
Ly Kimseng said that a steady pilgrimage of well-wishers came to her house starting around 7 am Thursday.
“Many people, including monks, came to my house just to share with my family,” she said in an interview Thursday afternoon.
“These people want to visit him in Phnom Penh,” she added.
She also said she got calls from sympathizers across the country.
“They are very surprised to see him on television, and when they saw him they almost started sobbing,” she said.
Two of her daughters came to stay with her Wednesday, but Ly Kimseng said she has long been prepared for her husband being imprisoned.
“He knows what he will do. I know what I will do,” she said, adding that she’s not worried about the trial itself, but she does hope her husband will get his medicine and proper food.
“I used to make food for him. I know what kind of food he likes. Other people don’t know. If he’s young, it’s no problem, but for an old man, food is very difficult,” she said.
Nuon Chea’s neighbors seemed unable to imagine that the man they have gone to the pagoda with for years and fondly called “Ta”—or “grandpa”—is accused of being a mass killer.
Chean Mok, a farmer from Nuon Chea’s home village of Spar Prum, said Wednesday that he couldn’t understand why Nuon Chea had been taken to Phnom Penh.
“Why do they just take only him?” he said. “As I know him, he never did anything bad to the people here.”
“He’s too old,” he continued. “His death is coming.”