PHNOM PENH: Nuon Chea (pic),the chief ideologue of the communist Khmer Rouge regime that destroyed a generation of Cambodians,died,the country’s UN-assisted genocide tribunal said. He was 93.
Nuon Chea was known as Brother No. 2,the right-hand man of Pol Pot,the leader of the regime that ruled Cambodia from 1975 to 1979. The group’s fanatical efforts to realise a utopian society led to the death of some 1.7 million people – more than a quarter of the country’s population at the time – from starvation,disease,overwork and executions.Researchers believe Nuon Chea was responsible for the extremist policies of the Khmer Rouge and was directly involved in its purges and executions.
He was serving life in prison after convictions by the UN-backed tribunal on charges of genocide,crimes against humanity and war crimes.
But Nuon Chea never admitted his guilt. At the long-awaited Khmer Rouge trials,he told a court that he and his comrades were not “bad people”,denying responsibility for any deaths.
For decades after the fall of the Khmer Rouge,Nuon Chea lived quietly with his family in a wooden house in Pailin,a former guerrilla stronghold near the border with Thailand.
“I wasn’t a war criminal,” he said in a 2004 interview. “I admit that there was a mistake. But I had my ideology. I wanted to free my country. I wanted people to have well-being.”
He was arrested in 2007 to face trial along with other surviving but ailing top Khmer Rouge leaders,and charged with crimes against humanity,genocide,religious persecution,homicide and torture.
Three decades after his accused crimes,Nuon Chea took the stand as an old man with white hair and sunken cheeks. Frail from a variety of health problems – including high blood pressure,heart problems and cataracts – he peered over eyeglasses as he defiantly defended the regime he served.
“I don’t want the next generation to misunderstand history. I don’t want them to believe the Khmer Rouge are bad,are criminals,” Nuon Chea testified in 2011 at the age of 85. “Nothing is true about that.”
During his testimony,he insisted that the regime was not responsible for any atrocities and reiterated long-standing Khmer Rouge claims that mass graves found after the Khmer Rouge were ousted from power held the bodies of people killed by Vietnamese troops.
“These war crimes and crimes against humanity were not committed by the Cambodian people,” Nuon Chea said. “It was the Vietnamese who killed Cambodians.”
Vietnam,a one-time communist ally of the Khmer Rouge,suffered several bloody attacks from them and finally struck back in late 1978,chasing the Khmer Rouge from power in early 1979 and installing a client regime of former members of the Khmer Rouge who had split with the group.
One of them was Cambodia’s current prime minister,Hun Sen. — AP
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