May 31, 2013
Source: Canberra Times
A frail 86-year-old former Khmer Rouge leader has expressed remorse
and accepted responsibility for the deaths of an estimated 1.7 million
people during the organisation's murderous rule in the 1970s.
"I am responsible for what happened during the time of
Democratic Kampuchea," said Nuon Chea, the Khmer Rouge's chief ideologue
and "brother number two", referring to Cambodia's name during the
Khmer Rouge's "killing fields" era from 1975 to 1979.
"I am very regretful for events that happened intentionally
and unintentionally. I am morally responsible," he said, expressing
"condolences" to victims sitting in a United Nations tribunal on Phnom
No other Khmer Rouge leader has ever admitted responsibility or apologised for one of the darkest chapters of the 20th century.
The surprise admission came amid concerns the only two Khmer Rouge
leaders facing charges of genocide, war crimes and crimes against
humanity could die before verdicts are reached at a long-troubled
tribunal that was set-up in 2006.
Earlier, 81-year-old Khieu Samphan, the organisation's former
head of state, said he regretted the "unspeakable suffering" done to
the Cambodian people under the Khmer Rouge and also offered condolences
But Mr Khieu Samphan continued to maintain his innocence, saying: "I cannot bear responsibility for those actions."
Throughout hearings he has claimed he knew nothing about the
mass deaths from starvation, disease and execution because he spent his
time in administrative offices in Phnom Penh.
"I was not aware of the heinous acts committed by other leaders that caused tragedy for the nation and people," he said.
Tribunal spokesman Lars Olsen said many victims had waited 30 years to hear any statement of apology from Khmer Rouge leaders.
The tribunal, partly funded by Australia, costing more than
$150 million has been dogged by walk-outs, strikes and allegations of
political interference by Cambodian's government, which is refusing to
allow more Khmer Rouge leaders to be prosecuted.
The tribunal has delivered only one verdict since it began
hearings in 2011: a life sentence to Kaing Guek Eav, known as Duch, the
chief of the notorious Tuol Sleng interrogation and torture centre in
Ieng Sary, the Khmer Rouge's former foreign minister, died in March before the tribunal delivered a verdict in his case.
In September last year the tribunal freed Ieng Sary's
80-year-old wife Ieng Thirith, the Khmer Rouge's most senior woman, on
the grounds she had diminished mental capacity.