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Khieu Samphan: 'Why Would It Kill Its Own People?'

[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 three of a five-part series.]

The Khmer Rouge was formed to fight foreigners, not kill its own, the former public face of the regime said.

"Why would it kill its own people?" Khieu Samphan asked. "For what reason? Who would live in the country then?"

Khieu Samphan, who has already selected a foreign attorney to defend him against possible indictment by Cambodia's hybrid tribunal, said he had not heard of the killing fields, of the starvation suffered by his countrymen, until at least the 1980s.

Cambodians "were hungry and dug up tubers. I didn't know it was like that. I found out at the end of 1989."

Given room to speak, Khieu Samphan raises points that have been raised before, shifting blame from the Khmer Rouge for its autogenocide to foreign powers, often the Vietnamese and the Americans.

The Khmer Rouge "fighting movement experienced plight, hunger, sickness, slept in trenches," Khieu Samphan said. "B-52 bombs were dropped [and] when you were just near them, you became crazy because you were so frightened."

The Khmer Rouge rose out of loyalty to its leaders, he said, as much as the bombing.

"Leaders would ask us to crawl into a crab hole," he said, a common Cambodian expression that describes loyalty.

The Khmer Rouge had loyalty structure where each person had a group, or strand, and every strand spied on the other, he said.

Khieu Samphan said the evacuations in 1975, when the Khmer Rouge took power, were Pol Pot's idea. So too was discipline.

"Those who were good and worked hard, should be encouraged," he said, "and those who opposed, should be dealt with accordingly."

Vietnamese interference might have been the reason so many people began starving once they were forced out of the city and into agricultural work camps, Khieu Samphan said.

"What did the starvation from 1975 to 1976 come from?" he said. "Not from Pol Pot. Could Pol Pot do it alone?"Part 3 of 5 Interview with Khieu Samphan