Blames Vietnamese, spies, vagabonds for regime’s woes
Khmer Rouge Brother Number Two Nuon Chea took the stand yesterday to vehemently relate his version of history, claiming that he sacrificed his life to serve the interests of his “beloved Cambodian people.”
In the second day of the trial against three senior Pol Pot regime figures, Nuon Chea replaced his trademark sunglasses with reading glasses to tell listeners, “My position in the revolution is to serve the interests of the nation and the people. Their oppression, injustice had compelled me to devote myself to fight for my country.”
Earlier in the day, prosecutors had denounced him and another two senior surviving leaders of the Khmer Rouge regime as “thieves of time and common murderers of an entire generation of Cambodians.”
Evidence was presented to prove the three leaders had direct control over executions, mass starvation, genocide and other crimes that led to the deaths of 2 million Cambodians.
Denying any truth in these opening remarks, Nuon Chea focused on the history and ideology of the Communist Party of Kampuchea, plunging into prosaic details including the agendas of meetings that took place decades ago.
“I had to leave my family behind to liberate my motherland from colonialism and aggression and oppression by the forces, the thieves who wish to steal our land and wipe Cambodia off the map of the world,” he said. “We wanted to build Cambodia as a society that was clean and independent without any killing of people or of genocide.”
Instead of blaming himself for the problems of the regime, Nuon Chea blamed Vietnam for its “dream to conquer” Cambodia, comparing Vietnam to “a python suffocating a young deer.” He also spoke of large-scale destruction caused by US bombing under the Lon Nol regime, and complained that “bad elements” such as vagabonds, spies and heavy drinkers had begun joining the Khmer Rouge en masse after 1970, wreaking havoc on the fledgling revolutionary movement.
Nuon Chea also gave his own version of the planned “liberation” of Phnom Penh, insisting that Lon Nol soldiers had disguised themselves in the black clothes worn by Khmer Rouge and taken men and families to be killed, while others fled to the border.
He only briefly admitted that difficulties, such as lack of food and “health issues,” were expected for a short time while production expanded and noted that cadres were meant to pay maximum attention to such problems.
Huoy Khamlam, 56, from Stung Treng province, who lost her father, husband and two brothers during the regime, did not believe Nuon Chea’s claims in court and called for his conviction. “I don’t believe him because I was old enough to understand and I lived under the regime,” Ms Khamlam said. “In fact, the Vietnamese people helped us and liberated us.”
Chhem Kosal, a 21-year-old student from Svay Rieng province, also said she did not believe Nuon Chea’s explanation of events. “It is insane because his regime killed many people,” Ms Kosal said. “He did not provide enough evidence.”
During the hearing, Co-Prosecutor Andrew Cayley made an impassioned plea for Nuon Chea and his co-accused, Foreign Minister Ieng Sary and head of state Khieu Samphan, to be found guilty of being directly responsible for crimes leading to the deaths of 2 million people under the regime.
“They robbed decades of development and prosperity from this country, they left gaping holes in every Cambodian family, they removed all breath from notions such as law and civil behavior,” Mr Cayley told the court.
“No one in this country is left unhurt or unaffected by what these three elderly men have done.”
Party propaganda broadcasts, photographs of meetings, S-21 confessions, telegrams and recent interviews with Nuon Chea were used to demonstrate the leaders’ control over a litany of crimes, including forced evacuations, executions and forced marriage. A video of Social Action Minister Ieng Thirith speaking eloquently in court in 2009 was also shown. Last week, judges ruled that Ieng Thirith, who suffers dementia, was unfit to stand trial.
Anne Heindel, legal adviser at the Documentation Center of Cambodia, observed that Nuon Chea had ignored the real consequences of the regime’s policies and talked in an abstract way about what he considered their causes. She noted a “total failure to recognize or even justify the human cost” of his actions.
Nuon Chea ended his explanation in court by calling on Vietnam to stop trying to control Cambodia by “being an elder brother and start to live peacefully ever after.”
“Cambodians are lovers of peace, independence, sovereignty,” he said.
(Additional reporting by Neou Vannarin)