Belfast Telegraph

Friday 19 September 2014

Khmer Rouge accused denies key role

Khieu Samphan, former Khmer Rouge head of state, who is facing a war crimes tribunal in Phnom Penh, Cambodia (AP)

A senior Khmer Rouge leader has accused a war crimes tribunal of wanting his "head on the block", and insisted he had no real authority during the regime's brutal rule of Cambodia in the 1970s.

Khieu Samphan, the former head of state, said he was a figurehead leader who never joined key policy meetings in the radical communist government, which is accused of orchestrating the country's "killing fields" and causing the deaths of an estimated 1.7 million Cambodians.

In his rebuttal of prosecutors' opening remarks, Khieu Samphan accused the UN-backed tribunal of exaggerating the Khmer Rouge's wrongdoing with "fairytales".

However, he also sought to justify the regime's rule in a historical context - just as the highest surviving leader Nuon Chea did during comments to the panel yesterday - saying the movement sought to protect the country from French colonialists, the US and neighbouring enemy Vietnam.

"Today you may see it as a joke. However, I shall remind you that at that time, communism was the one movement that gave hope to millions of youth around the world. What I really wanted at that time was the best possible experience for my country, for Cambodia," Khieu Samphan said.

The tribunal is seeking justice on behalf of an estimated quarter of Cambodia's population to have died from executions, starvation, disease and overwork when the Khmer Rouge held power in 1975-79.

The defendants - Khieu Samphan, 80; Nuon Chea, 85, the group's No 2 and chief ideologist; and former foreign minister Ieng Sary, 86 - are the most senior surviving members of the regime. They are charged with crimes against humanity, genocide, religious persecution, homicide and torture, but have long denied wrongdoing.

The Khmer Rouge's supreme leader, Pol Pot, died in 1998 in Cambodia's jungles while a prisoner of his own comrades.

Prosecutors on Monday and Tuesday described a litany of horrors imposed by the Khmer Rouge as it tried to build an agrarian utopia.

Khieu Samphan said that the prosecutors' accounts were based mainly on unreliable old news reports and books, calling them "fairytales", and said his position as head of state had no real power.

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