PHNOM PENH (Reuters) - Khmer Rouge “Brother Number Two” Nuon Chea, Pol Pot’s top surviving henchman, was charged with war crimes and crimes against humanity on Wednesday by the U.N.-backed “Killing Fields” tribunal.
A court spokesman said the octogenarian communist guerrilla had been placed behind bars in the compound of the $56 million court after a short hearing before Cambodian and international judges.
Nuon Chea, who has been living as a free man since cutting a deal with Phnom Penh in 1998, was arrested at dawn by Cambodian special forces soldiers and Western security guards who surrounded his small wooden home in a forest on the Thai border.
He was questioned inside the house for a short time before being taken away by military helicopter and flown to Phnom Penh.
“My dad seems to have no worries, but my mother is worried about him,” his son, Nuon Say, told Reuters.
Papers and photographs were also seized from the house, Nuon Chea’s home since he and the final remnants of Pol Pot’s ultra-Maoist guerrilla army surrendered in December 1998.
“They confiscated the documents written by my dad about the Khmer Rouge,” Nuon Say said. “They took all the photos from his home before they put him into vehicle, took him to the helicopter and flew him off to Phnom Penh.”
On his arrival in the capital, he was whisked to the tribunal compound on the western outskirts for the closed-door hearing.
“SORRY FOR THE PEOPLE -- AND ANIMALS”
Nuon Chea is the surviving Khmer Rouge commander thought to be most responsible for the atrocities of the “Killing Fields”, in which an estimated 1.7 million people died.
In July, the long-awaited tribunal charged chief Khmer Rouge inquisitor Duch with crimes against humanity, the first formal indictment of any of the top cadres of the 1975 “Year Zero” revolution.
The black-shirted Khmer Rouge emptied the cities, abolished money and tried to eradicate the intelligentsia in a bid to transform the heavily forested Southeast Asian nation into an agrarian peasant utopia.
Instead, they plunged it into the nightmare of the “Killing Fields”, one of the darkest chapters of the 20th century.
The Beijing-backed regime was toppled by invading Vietnamese troops in 1979 and Pol Pot died in the last Khmer Rouge redoubt of Anlong Veng in 1998.
Prosecutors have launched formal cases against three other top leaders besides Duch and Nuon Chea, but not named them.
They are believed to be former President Khieu Samphan -- Nuon Chea’s next-door neighbor before his arrest -- former Foreign Minister Ieng Sary and Meas Muth, a son-in-law of military chief Ta Mok who died last year.
Chhum Manh, one of only a handful of survivors of Phnom Penh’s S-21 interrogation and torture centre, said he wanted apologies and explanations rather than vengeance.
“We don’t want revenge against them physically. We want them to apologize to the people so that we can be at peace,” he said.
“I‘m happy that they’ve brought him for questioning. I was afraid he would die like Ta Mok. But Nuon Chea is not enough -- we need Ieng Sary and Khieu Samphan in court as well.”
Nuon Chea issued an apology of sorts in 1998, immediately after his peace deal. Most Cambodians who had lived through four years of horror under Pol Pot were unimpressed.
“Naturally, we are sorry -- not only for the lives of the people, but also for the animals,” he told a news conference. “They all died because we wanted to win the war.”