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Nuon Chea cut off at Khmer Rouge court

Nuon Chea (centre), aka Brother No 2, sits through a hearing at the Khmer Rouge tribunal earlier this year. Photograph: ECCC/POOL

As the end of the two-day testimony of former Khmer Rouge commune and cooperative chief Yun Kim drew near, an unusual request made its way to Case 002 presiding Judge Nil Nonn.

Brother No 2 Nuon Chea, who can normally be seen sporting a blank facial expression and his trademark black shades, had made an uncharacteristic return to the courtroom instead of retiring to the holding cells after lunch.

He wanted to make a few comments.

“Mr Nuon Chea is very much a part of his own defence,” explained the octogenarian’s co-defence counsel Andrew Ianuzzi after objections were raised. “I don’t see why this chamber would not be interested in hearing what he has to say.”

Ianuzzi made the request after the 80-year-old Yun Kim described food shortages and a kind of competition to produce vast quantities of rice in Kratie province under the regime Nuon Chea now stands trial for leading.

Judge Nil Nonn allowed the request as long as Nuon Chea put any questions for the witness through the judge first.

But he didn’t have any questions.

Nuon Chea, whose counsel told the Post that he wanted to address the courtroom during Yun Kim’s testimony, launched into a statement that came close to explaining the evacuation of urban areas in 1975, but quickly veered into a vague appeal to the downtrodden.

“I’d like to make my statements to the poor people who have been oppressed, who have been persecuted and had their lives threatened by the rich, by the powerful, who are robbing their farmland,” he said.

The judge cut him off and called the statement irrelevant to the witness at hand.

Nuon Chea continued to speak. His microphone was cut off. He kept talking, and the translation stopped.

In protest, he asked to leave the courtroom.

“If I am not allowed to speak, then I will go to the holding cell,” he said, before being wheeled out of the courtroom.

Earlier in the day, Yum Kim revealed specific details about life under his leadership, which appeared to be lax compared to neighbouring communes.

Joining the movement in 1971, he saw its progress up until 1979, when the Vietnamese swarmed in and took over. When in charge he tried to save rice for the hungry, and he allowed travel, three to five days depending on the length of the trip.

To contact the reporter on this story: Joseph Freeman at joseph.freeman@phnompenhpost.com

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