As the most senior surviving leader of the Khmer Rouge, experts see "substantial
and compelling evidence" linking Nuon Chea to the purges and execution
policies of the Pol Pot regime.
Former Khmer Rouge leader Nuon Chea, 82, at his home in Pruhm village near the Thai border. Among other denials, Brother No 2 said on December 16, "I never heard of prison called Toul Sleng."
In 2004, authors Stephen Heder and Brian Tittemore named Nuon Chea as the first of
seven candidates "most responsible" for the crimes committed between 1975
and 1979. Yet Nuon Chea is a free man. And after 28 years of impunity, Brother No
2 expresses little concern for consequences - be it at the hands of the courts, karma
or the Cambodian people.
He lives 23 km from Pailin, in the small village of Pruhm, just steps from the Thai
border. It's a pleasant setting for an 82-year-old retiree: modest, comfortable and
well tended. His stilt home, weathered and wooden, is fronted by the flowers and
fruit trees planted by his wife. Until recently, his next door neighbor was Khieu
Nuon Chea stands at the top of seven steps. He wears a hooded Champion sweatshirt
over a sarong. The man known as Uncle Nuon in Angkar - "the Organization"
- doesn't shake hands. He smiles, and offers a sampeah, but does not bow his head.
Nuon Chea spoke to Stephan Haselberger, reporter for Berlin's Der Tagesspiegel,
about his role in the mass killings of the Khmer Rouge, and what he plans to tell
his grandchildren about the past. Here are excerpts from that December 16 interview.
Under the Khmer Rouge an estimated 1.7 million lives were lost. Do you accept
responsibility for the mass executions and deportations, forced labor and famine?
I do not have exact figures regarding lives and deaths available. But I ask you:
How many people died during the Lon Nol regime backed by the United States of America?
How many died when Vietnam invaded Cambodia? Did you consider these deaths when talking
about the 1.7 million cases? We would not have succeeded in our five-year-long fight
against the Americans if we had killed our own people.
Did I get this right: There were no mass murders or executions under the Khmer
It may have happened in particular cases, but it was not us who killed our people.
Our enemies killed them.
Who were these enemies?
They were foreign intelligence representatives who were hidden in our villages.
There must have been a lot of agents. How many do you think there were?
I am not able to give an estimate.
After the Khmer Rouge's reign, thousands of mass graves were discovered. Having
been Brother No 2, how could you not know about this?
Those photographs with skulls now being presented do not mean a thing. Modern technology
can do this. Skulls of Vietnamese and US soldiers are being lined up and photographed.
This does not mean that I do not want to take responsibility. But it was Cambodian
people who started my party. Why should we have killed our own people? I do not see
You are saying all these people were brought to death either by foreign intelligence
agents or the Lon Nol regime during the war?
So, let's talk about Tuol Sleng then, the secret torture prison known as S 21.
Back then I did not know a prison operating under this name. I learned about it only
after the Vietnamese invasion.
Documents prove that you were at least informed of the murders in Tuol Sleng.
I did not know about this. I never heard about Tuol Sleng. If these documents existed,
they were manipulated. Because everyone wants to blame it on the People's Republic
of Kampuchea, this would not be difficult.
How could it happen that, as Brother No 2, you were not aware of such a prison
operating in front of you?
There was no S 21 at this time. If it had existed, I would have been informed. But
I never heard about it.
But you do remember Comrade Duch, the former head of the jail?
Mr Duch was with the Ministry of Defense and internal security then. Son Sen was
accountable for the ministry, not me.
Mr Duch says, among other things, that in 1978 he had, by order of you, a directive
to kill 300 Khmer Rouge soldiers without interrogation.
I have not the faintest idea. I was not accountable for internal security and did
not have the capacity to interfere or issue orders. At that time we strictly followed
the principle of task-sharing. Mr Duch blamed many things on me. I was a high-ranking
politician then. I was responsible for parts of our policies, but there are limits.
For internal security, it was the Military Commission that was liable.
So the commission is responsible for mass murders?
I do not know whether there were killings or not. Murders may have happened. But
mass murders? Some worked against our party, and then one solved this problem.
Did mass murders happen or not?
Maybe there were mass killings, but we did not know about them. That is what we are
accountable for. It was our failing that we did not look after people locally. This
is where we were responsible.
So, if there were mass murders, the party did not know anything about them and
they were beyond the party's control?
If this happened, it was unintentional. The party leaders really fought. We gave
our lives for our country. We needed a labor force. We would have lost labor, had
we had our people killed. For the time being, I do not want to say more about this.
If I will be put on trial I'll be talking.
Do you expect to be charged?
[Laughing] Yes, probably. The tribunal is concerned with me because I was called
Brother No 2. This won't be a problem. If I am summoned, I will go and tell what
Do you regret that your regime brought your country misery?
I do think about what my country is to be lacking. But, you know, I always lived
close to the people. I participated in the revolution because I wanted to do something
for my country. Basically, I look ahead rather than back. The past is teaching us
a lesson to avoid future failures.
What lessons did you learn?
One great lesson is that we wanted too much, too fast. We aimed too high. Our requirements
for the people were too high. We thought we had to develop the country very quickly.
Vietnam had a population of 70 million, Thailand of 60 million people. We thought
we had to be quick or remain at the bottom. We wanted to push the population to 20
million in five years. We thought that people would benefit from our program. This
was an error.
What was the result of your error?
The result that can be seen now.
What do you mean?
We did not succeed. We wanted a clean, illuminating and peaceful regime. At least
we maintained the country, the nation, as a whole. That's a point from where to start.
What will you say when your grandchildren ask why your Khmer Rouge has brought
so much pain to Cambodia?
I will tell them they should make up their own mind.
During this interview you were laughing a lot. Are you a happy person?
[Laughing]. I live a normal life. It's like in everybody's life: sometimes you are
happy, sometimes not. I don't care much. I just stay normal.