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Former Khmer Rouge Leader Denies Involvement in Deaths - 2001-08-17

A former Khmer Rouge leader is denying he had anything to do with the deaths of nearly two million Cambodians in the late 1970s. Khieu Samphan is the second Khmer Rouge member in the last week to publicly defend himself since the government approved a tribunal to try top Khmer Rouge officials for atrocities committed under their rule.

In an open letter to Cambodians, former Khmer Rouge leader Khieu Samphan denied any involvement in atrocities allegedly perpetrated by the Khmer Rouge during its rule in Cambodia from 1975 until 1979. Khieu Samphan, former head of state of Cambodia under the Khmer Rouge, said he was not privy to any information concerning the mass killings that occurred under the Maoist group's government.

Khieu Samphan claims he did not attend the meetings of senior leaders and had no power to execute or even arrest anyone. He said his power was less than that of a regional commander. He also said he was forced to take the position as head of state in fear of his life. His public declaration contradicts recent evidence provided by American researchers that linked former Khmer Rouge leaders, including Khieu Samphan and Ieng Sary, with the mass killings. American researchers say the two had knowledge of the Khmer Rouge's daily operations.

Former Khmer Rouge foreign minister Ieng Sary told reporters earlier this week that he was not involved in the atrocities. He said he was out of the country most of the time and unaware of the actions committed by the movement's leaders.

Khieu Samphan and Ieng Sary are among the handful of former Khmer Rouge leaders who may be put on trial before a U.N. assisted tribunal. United Nations and the Cambodian government are due to hammer out details of forming the war crimes tribunal in the next few weeks. Cambodia approved legislation to create the international court earlier this month.

An estimated 1.7 million Cambodians are believed to have died by execution, starvation and torture under the Khmer Rouge.