Phnom Penh (AsiaNews) – One of the top Khmer Rouge leaders, Nuon Chea, was arrested this morning in Pailin and transported via helicopter to the capital. He will be tried by the special UN tribunal investigating crimes against humanity committed by the Khmer Rouge regime 1975 to 1979.
Nuon Chea, 82, was nicknamed “brother n. 2”, and was one of the ideological chiefs of the Maoist groups, as well as being among the closet collaborators of Pol Pot, who died in ’98.
During their dictatorship almost 2 million people were killed, from hunger, torture or executed.
Nuon Chea lived – as do many Khmer Rouge – in Pailin, in the north on the border with Thailand, an area well known for illegal trafficking in arms and precious stones. Some weeks ago he had declared: "I am the number two in the regime, I am responsible for everything that happened, but I have to tell the population why people died in that period”. In his opinion the UN tribunal is “a battle field between patriots and invaders”: the latter being the west, but also all of the Asian companies that have rebuilt the country. Gravely ill and nearing the end of his life, Nuon Chea maintains that should he be put on trial he will not take on a defence team but defend himself.
The tribunal called for by the UN has taken years to form: both funds and the political will to persecute the communists group for their crimes were lacking, in the fear that some of the current heads of government could be involved, Prime Minister Hun Sen and King Norodom Sihanouk, who abdicated in 2004: in the torturous events in Cambodia, both collaborated with the Khmer Rouge.
The breakthrough came on July 18th last: the names of 5 suspects were submitted to the tribunal, in a document of over 14 thousand pages and 350 eyewitness testimonies attached. At the time none of the 5 names were released, but it has become clear that un of those names is Nuon Chea, arrested this morning.
Another of those names is Kang Kek Ieu, known as “Duch”, chief of the infamous S21 prison, where thousands of people died from torture. Duch was the first to have been accused of crimes against humanity on July 31 and was arrested and transferred to a prison built especially for the tribunal.
Among the others named it is believed that there is Ieng Sary, the former number 3 of the Khmer Rouge; Khieu Samphan, who was president for the brief democratic Republic of Khampuchea and then minister in the new national unity government; Meas Muth and Kun Khin, current advisors to Hun Sen.