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After Three Days of Trial, Three Denials of Guilt

Former Khmer Rouge second-in-command Nuon Chea, former President Khieu Samphan and former Foreign Minister Ieng Sary (L-R) attend their trial at the Extraordinary Chambers in the Courts of Cambodia (ECCC) on the outskirts of Phnom Penh, November 21, 2011.

Jailed Khmer Rouge defendant Khieu Samphan offered an opening statement to the UN-backed tribunal on Wednesday, saying he wanted prosecutors to apologize for accusations made against him and denying all knowledge of the atrocities taking place while he was the nominal head of state for the regime.

Khieu Samphan is on trial for atrocity crimes at the court, alongside Nuon Chea, the regime’s Brother No. 2, and Ieng Sary, its foreign minister. Wednesday marked the third day of the first substantial hearing for the three men, in a landmark trial that will be the most complicated for the tribunal to date.

In a statement to Trial Chamber judges, Khieu Samphan said the indictment against him linking him to mass atrocities of the regime were “a guess” without evidence.

“I request that sir and madam apologize to me,” he said, referring to the court’s international and national prosecutors, who allege he and the other two men engaged in joint criminal acts against the Cambodian people.

“I never assisted in decisions of big questions,” he said. “And I never knew about the horrors that Mrs. Co-Prosecutor mentioned.”

Khieu Samphan and his defense team also raised questions of the US bombardment of Cambodia that preceded the Khmer Rouge’s rise to power, and asked why the former king, Norodom Sihanouk, who called for the Cambodian people to rise against a US-backed regime, fueling the guerrilla movement, was not called before the court.

Ieng Sary, who also appeared before the court, told the court he was granted an amnesty by Sihanouk in the 1990s, and should not be on trial.

With the opening testimonies concluding, no single defendant has admitted any responsibility for the atrocities committed while they were in charge. In his testimony on Tuesday, Nuon Chea said he was defending Cambodia from Vietnamese plots to overtake it. A Vietnamese Embassy official on Wednesday denied the accusation.

The court will now move on toward the hearings of evidence, beginning Dec. 5.