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Top Suspect Nuon Chea says he's Undaunted by Thought of Trial

Wife of Khieu Samphan says Five 'Small Number,' as Tribunal Takes Key Step

With tribunal investigators now looking at a confidential list of five Khmer Rouge suspects for long-awaited trials, those who may well be on that list say they will let justice run its course.

Nuon Chea, known as Brother No. 2, said he would answer in court any questions put to him, if he were to be indicted.

"I have said for years that it is not a problem at all," he told VOA Khmer.

The Extraordinary Chambers in the Courts of Cambodia, or ECCC, the official name for the tribunal, on Wednesday announced five suspects had been named by prosecutors to be investigated by judges, following Cambodia's legal system.

Asked whether he feared he might be on the list, Nuon Chea, who is 82 and in poor health, gave a four-word Buddhist mantra that means, "birth, aging, sickness, death."

"I'll just say four words," he said by telephone from his home in Pailin, a traditional Khmer Rouge stronghold.

Nuon Chea was the closest confidante to Khmer Rouge supreme leader Pol Pot and historians say he was the person who most helped Pol Pot shape the regime's stern and extreme policies.

The five suspects were top leaders of the Khmer Rouge who allegedly committed crimes against humanity, breaches of the Geneva Conventions, torture and genocide.

Another suspect likely on the confidential list is Khieu Samphan, the nominal head of the Khmer Rouge, which called itself Democratic Kampuchea.

Khieu Samphan's wife, So Socheat, told VOA Khmer Thursday she was worried about her husband's old age and whether the courts would find justice for him if he were indeed on the list of five.

The courts should be sure they have evidence and witnesses, she said, because she did not believe her husband committed crimes that would lead to indictment in the special courts.

Five was a small number, she said. The Khmer Rouge had many leaders, and her husband's role was minimal, she said. He had nothing to do with the killings, she said.

Under Democratic Kampuchea, farmers and workers had the power, and her husband did not interfere in their affairs, So Socheat said.

She did not know who committed many of the killings during the regime, especially during a series of purges in its final years, So Socheat said, because she spent all her time "cooking in the communal kitchen."

The ECCC said Wednesday its list of five suspects included thousands of documents, much of it gathered from the Documentation Center of Cambodia.

Youk Chhang, the Center's director, has for years been collecting evidence against the former leaders of the Khmer Rouge, and Wednesday's announcement was a victory for him and the victims of the regime, he said.

"This is the time that all victims of the Khmer Rouge want more than all other times," he said, adding that it was now up to the courts to decide the fates of the ailing leaders of the regime.

"I think we should let the law decide," he said. "Now the law is the key, and we have to respect and implement the law all together."

US Embassy spokesman Jeff Daigle said the US was awaiting the day when suspects would be brought to trial.

The secret list of five was the first step in a long road for the tribunal, which will cost at least $56 million and is being supported by the UN. Until Wednesday, the courts had failed to indict a single leader of the Khmer Rouge regime, all of whom are aging and dying.

Only one of the leaders is in custody, Kaing Khek Iev, the Khmer Rouge torture chief also known as Duch.

Other top leaders—Pol Pot, Son Sen, Ta Mok and Ke Pok—are dead.