News / Asia

Former Khmer Rouge Official to Appeal Conviction

FILE - Former Khmer Rouge leaders Noun Chea and Khieu Samphan in court.
FILE - Former Khmer Rouge leaders Noun Chea and Khieu Samphan in court.

Cambodian defense attorneys for former Khmer Rouge leader Nuon Chea say he was not involved in at least one of the crimes he was found guilty of and they plan to appeal.

Nuon Chea is on trial alongside Khieu Samphan for atrocity crimes. Both men were already handed life sentences by the court after the first of two phases in their trial, and they are facing more charges as the final phase gets under way later this year.

But defense lawyers for Nuon Chea say he was not involved in the mass killings of some 10,000 people, including soldiers of the Lon Nol regime, at a place called Tuol Porchrey in Pursat province. This was one of the crimes he was found guilty of in the first phase of the trial, which focused on the forced evacuation of Phnom Penh and the early days of the Khmer Rouge regime.

Documentary filmmaker Thet Sambath, who has interviewed Nuon Chea extensively, says his research shows the former leaders were not involved in the mass killings there.

“The verdict should be reversed. Investigations must be done properly to secure the truth if the court wants to be fair. So far I see that the court is not fair. In the agreement between the Royal Government and the U.N., the Court already has decided who and what countries should and shouldn’t be summoned," said Sambath.

Defense attorney Victor Koppe says the defense has filed a request with the Supreme Court Chamber of the tribunal to present evidence based on Thet Sambath’s research and is seeking an acquittal for the crimes at Tuol Porchrey.

He blamed the killings there on infighting between Khmer Rouge soldiers and their local leaders, not the orders of Nuon Chea or Khieu Samphan.

“The ones who are responsible for what happened in Tuol Por Chhrey is the group which was under the leadership of Ros Nhem and Sor Phim. They were the ones involved in the executions and certainly not Nuon Chea and certainly not Khieu Samphan either," said Koppe.

He said he heard about the new evidence after listening to Thet Sambath's interview this week with VOA's Khmer service.

Thet Sambath says his interest is in ensuring the truth of the regime be on the public record, and not just for Tuol Porchrey.

However, Peter Maguire, a legal scholar who has written a book about the Khmer Rouge, says Noun Chea faces a number of charges and his case is unlikely to be reheard.

“What I mean is that one massacre was not the only crime that the defendants were accused of. So, again the defense lawyers are doing their jobs, but I think for the U.N. to overreact to this would be a huge mistake," said Maguire.

In the second phase of the trial, Nuon Chea and Khieu Samphan are facing charges for atrocity crimes including genocide, allegedly committed by the Khmer Rouge under their leadership.

As many as two million Cambodians died from starvation, overwork and executions during the four-year rule of the Khmer Rouge, which attempted to create an agrarian communist utopia.

This report was produced in collaboration with the VOA Vietnamese service.

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