- The Washington Times - Thursday, April 2, 2009

PHNOM PENH, CAMBODIA (AP) - A former top leader of Cambodia’s Khmer Rouge has denied allegations by the regime’s prison chief that he was involved in ordering executions and medical experiments on prisoners.

A lawyer for Nuon Chea, the main ideologue for the 1975-79 Khmer Rouge regime, said Thursday that his client had no authority over S-21 prison and its commander, Kaing Guek Eav, who is being tried by a U.N.-assisted tribunal for war crimes, crimes against humanity, homicide and torture.

On Wednesday, a prosecutor read out a legal document naming Nuon Chea as the man who ordered Kaing Guek Eav (pronounced Gang Geck EE-UU) to kill four groups of prisoners and authorized medical research on poisons to be carried out on prisoners. The document said Kaing Guek Eav, better known as Duch (pronounced Doik), was the source of the information.

Nuon Chea’s lawyer, Son Arun, said his client was not involved in such actions and “he strongly denies the allegations.”

“Nuon Chea follows the Khmer Rouge tribunal very closely on radio and TV, and when he heard Duch’s allegations he expressed surprise and laughed,” he said.

Son Arun said his client believes Duch was trying to implicate Nuon Chea as a way of getting released or having any potential sentence reduced.

Duch, now 66, could face a maximum penalty of life in prison; Cambodia has no death penalty. His trial began Monday.

Nuon Chea is already in the tribunal’s custody, but he has not yet been formally indicted. A much more senior figure than Duch in the Khmer Rouge regime, Nuon Chea is expected to be tried sometime in the next years for war crimes and crimes against humanity.

The U.N.-assisted tribunal represents the first serious attempt to hold Khmer Rouge leaders accountable for the deaths of an estimated 1.7 million Cambodians from starvation, medical neglect, slave-like working conditions and execution. The group’s top leader, Pol Pot, died in 1998.

Duch is the first of five surviving senior figures of the regime to go on trial.

His fellow detainees _ besides Nuon Chea _ are Khieu Samphan, the Khmer Rouge’s former head of state; Ieng Sary, its foreign minister; and his wife Ieng Thirith, who was minister for social affairs. All are expected to be tried sometime over the next year.

Nuon Chea was assigned to be in charge of education and culture, and had no links to S-21, said Son Arun, who described his client as “a powerless man.”

The lawyer said that Pol Pot and his defense chief, Son Sen _ who died in 1997 _ had authority over S-21, which was also known as Tuol Sleng and was where as many as 16,000 men women and children are believed to have been brutalized before being sent to their deaths.

Nuon Chea’s name arose, apparently by accident, during procedural discussions Wednesday at Duch’s trial. Nuon Chea had been identified only by a pseudonym in publicly released documents for the trial, but visibly weary co-prosecutor Robert Petit let slip his name despite being cautioned earlier by a judge to use only initials for the sources cited.

Duch on Tuesday delivered a personal statement accepting responsibility for crimes committed at S-21 and expressing his “deep regretfulness and … heartfelt sorrow.”

Duch told the courtroom filled with hundreds of spectators _ including relatives of the victims _ that he tried to avoid becoming commander of Tuol Sleng. But once in the job, he said, he feared for his family’s lives if he did not carry out his duty to extract confessions from supposed enemies of the regime.

He offered apologies to the victim’s families, while acknowledging that it may be too much to ask for immediate forgiveness for “serious crimes that cannot be tolerated.”

At Monday’s opening trial session the indictment against him was read, which details a gruesome litany of allegations of torture and killing.

After Wednesday’s session, occupied entirely by procedural matters, the trial will resume Monday. It is due to be wrapped up in July.

___

Associated Press writers Grant Peck and Susan Postlewaite in Phnom Penh contributed to this report.

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