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Khieu Samphan, Public Face of Khmer Rouge: Arrests 'Have an Effect on Me'

[Editor's note: Head of state and spokesman for the Khmer Rouge when it rose to power, Khieu Samphan is widely believed under investigation by the special tribunal courts for trial on atrocity crimes. On Oct. 11, he gave VOA Khmer his longest interview since the indictments of two of his comrades, chief ideologue Nuon Chea and torture center director Duch. This is part one of a five-part series.]

The arrest of Brother No. 2 Nuon Chea has had a serious effect on another former cader, Khieu Samphan, the aging Khmer Rouge head of state said Thursday.

Nuon Chea faces tribunal charges of crimes against humanity and war crimes.

"He is very old now, and traditionally he is an elder," Khieu Samphan said of his fellow former comrade. "His arrest and detention have had an effect on me, even when [he has not been] sentenced."

In a telephone interview with VOA Khmer, Khieu Samphan defended the rise of the Khmer Rouge with the same justification Nuon Chea himself has used: "If there were no Khmer Rouge movement in 1970, Cambodia would now be in Vietnam's grip."

As the Khmer Rouge rose to power, its paranoia about Vietnamese and American infiltration in its ranks led to a series of purges, under which many people were tortured and executed. Others died from failed agrarian policies, overwork, malnutrition or disease.

Khieu Samphan is believed to be under investigation by the tribunal courts for possible indictment, and he has already hired a firebrand international lawyer.

"I did nothing wrong," he said Thursday. "In the name of Cambodia, I could not cross my arms and watch [Cambodia fall to Vietnam]. So I became involved with the Khmer Rouge."

"If there were no Khmer Rouge movement in 1970, Cambodia would be in Vietnam's grip, and if there were no Khmer Rouge struggling in 1979, there would be no Paris agreement and no present day Cambodia," he said.

"I don't know what [Nuon Chea's] duties were," he said. "But he is this old; from the bottom of my heart, I feel sorry for him."

Nuon Chea should not have been arrested in the way he was, when he was taken by helicopter from his home in Pailin to face the tribunal courts in Phnom Penh, Khieu Samphan said.

"I studied some law and see that it is not right," he said. "He should be invited first, be questioned first. There should be a summons, how many days, how much longer, when he should report [to the court]. He should know beforehand. He came and, bang, he was led away."

Were Khieu Samphan to be charged, he said he would not be worried.

"I did nothing wrong," he said.

"I was the head of state in April 1976," he said. "I had no power in Democratic Kampuchea's presidium. I had the rights, in that I represented the Cambodian people, all Cambodia, the communist Khmers, and the non-communist Khmers.

"I was an official, I did not embezzle even one penny," he continued. "This is a moral issue. For politics, I don't see I was wrong. I fulfilled my duty for my country. I have done this much, and I am not afraid of the court."

He did not have a leading role in the communist party, he said, but in the government. In his position he had no power, and will clarify this if the court summons him.

"I am not afraid, not worried," he said. "I am ready…. I knew nothing, I really knew nothing, it is true."