THE FORMER LEADER of the ruthless Khmer Rouge regime on Friday denied charges of genocide and rejected the being labelled a “murderer” during the closing of a UN-backed trial.
Former Khmer Rouge head of state, 85-year-old Khieu Samphan, denied responsibility for murders and rights abuses under his regime that were described in the court by over 100 witnesses throughout the trial, reported the AFP.
“I didn’t know about these issues,” he was quoted as saying, adding that the “idea” of genocide in Cambodia was concocted by Vietnam.
In 2014, a UN-backed tribunal sentenced Khieu to life in prison along with Nuon Chea, another senior leader known as “Brother Number Two” after being found guilty of crimes against humanity.
At the time, the two were convicted of “extermination encompassing murder, political persecution, and other inhumane acts comprising forced transfer, enforced disappearances and attacks against human dignity”. Both men, in dire health, denied any wrongdoing.
The charges centered on the forced exodus of millions of people from Cambodia’s cities and towns, and an execution site in the northwest where thousands of people were shot and buried in mass graves.
An estimated 1.7 million people died under the Khmer Rouge regime in the late 1970s – approximately a fifth of the entire population. Most of the victims died of starvation, torture, exhaustion or disease in labour camps or were killed during mass executions.
“I know that they really suffered. I also heard when they spoke to me sometimes referring to me as a murderer … but the term murderer, I categorically reject it,” Khieu said on Friday.
Due to his frail health, Nuon Chea watched the proceedings from a court holding cell and did not deliver a closing statement.
His lawyer Victor Koppe, however, said Nuon Chua believed he was part of a “show trial,” the AFP reported.
“Nuon Chea couldn’t care less if you convict him again to a life sentence … he doesn’t take this institution seriously,” added Koppe.
The court, which combined Cambodian and international law, was established in 2006 to try senior Khmer Rouge leaders but many of them have died without facing justice. Pol Pot, “Brother Number One,” died in 1998.