PHNOM PENH (Reuters) - Khmer Rouge “Brother Number Two” Nuon Chea, Pol Pot’s top surviving henchman, was arrested on Wednesday at his house on the Thai border and taken to Phnom Penh to face the U.N. “Killing Fields” tribunal for the first time.
A terse, two-sentence statement by the $56 million court said the octogenarian communist guerrilla would “be informed of the charges which have been brought against him” — in all likelihood genocide or crimes against humanity.
Nuon Chea was arrested by a squad of Cambodian special forces soldiers, police and Western security guards who surrounded his small wooden home in a forest on the Thai border.
He was questioned inside for a short time before being taken away by 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 cut a deal with the Phnom Penh government 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 a closed-door hearing.
Nuon Chea is accused of being the surviving Khmer Rouge commander 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 meant to transform the heavily forested Southeast Asian nation into an agrarian peasant utopia. Instead, it descended 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 four top leaders besides Duch, but have not named them.
They are believed to be Nuon Chea, former President Khieu Samphan — now Nuon Chea’s next-door neighbour — 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 apologise 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.”