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A Lawyerless Nuon Chea Expects to Live to See Trial

At 82 years old, Nuon Chea is not the portrait of health. His shoulders hurt and his feet are swollen. But the former Khmer Rouge Brother No. 2, one of the regime's surviving top leaders, told VOA Khmer at his home in Pailin he expected to live to see trial.

"Maybe I will not die yet," he said. "I am sick, yes, because my health is going downward. It is illness of age, not the illness of youth."

Many key leaders have died ahead of a tribunal, and others are in failing health.

Nuon Chea, wearing a faded blued shirt with a tattered collar, said Friday he suspects he is on the confidential list of five suspects to be investigated for crimes against humanity.

"I am not sure whether or not my name will be mentioned," he said. "I am happy to go testify before the court, if the court sends me a letter calling me."

According to Cambodia's court structure, suspects such as those handed Wednesday from prosecutors to investigating judges must first be investigated before they are indicted and brought to court. The tribunal had been bogged down by bickering over its internal rules and other technicalities, but the naming of suspects for investigation is widely seen as the most fruitful step forward since the tribunal began.

In a statement sent by email to VOA Khmer Friday, James Goldston, executive director of the Open Society Justice Initiative, an independent organization monitoring the tribunal, said the criminal process was now in motion, but witnesses still needed protection and court facilities needed more preparation.

The pubic needed engaged, he said, an financial and administrative operations needed transparent reporting.

Rupert Skilbeck, chief of counsel of the tribunal's defense unit, told VOA Khmer there are less than 100 lawyers who have submitted applications to join the process.

"We expect the lawyers to speed up in registering," he said, " and become known in the next few months."

Suspects will be provided defense lawyers if they cannot afford their own, he said.

Nuon Chea said Friday he did not yet have a lawyer, but if it were up to him, he would chose a Cambodian.

"For me, a Khmer lawyer," he said. "If I hire, I will hire Khmer."

Nuon Chea was the former National Assembly President for Democratic Kampuchea, the official name of the Khmer Rouge. During the interview, he held a religious book and sat in a home furnished with a large refrigerator, a radio and portraits of former king Norodom Sihanouk and queen Monineath. He has two grandchildren and a wife.

He was not involved in any killing he said, but would not name any who were.

"Whether or not there will be justice, I don't really know yet," he said. "The trial has not yet begun."

Nuon Chea said he did not trust the tribunal's foreign counterparts.

"I believe in a Cambodian court. We are compatriots," he said. Foreigners "do not understand virtue and national consciousness. It all depends on all the Cambodian people. They will give me justice."