Mourners pay last respects to Khmer Rouge leader

Nuon Chea's relative lighting incense in front of his coffin at a temple in Cambodia's western Pailin province on Thursday. The Khmer Rouge leader, who died on Sunday in a Phnom Penh hospital at age 93, was cremated yesterday.
Nuon Chea's relative lighting incense in front of his coffin at a temple in Cambodia's western Pailin province on Thursday. The Khmer Rouge leader, who died on Sunday in a Phnom Penh hospital at age 93, was cremated yesterday.PHOTO: EPA-EFE

Death of Pol Pot's deputy comes less than a year after genocide conviction

PAILIN (Cambodia) • Former Khmer Rouge cadres and relatives paid their final respects to "Brother No. 2" Nuon Chea yesterday, ahead of a cremation ceremony in Cambodia for the man considered the chief ideologue of the murderous regime.

Nuon Chea, once the most trusted deputy of leader Pol Pot, died on Sunday in a Phnom Penh hospital at age 93.

His death comes less than a year after he was sentenced to life in prison by a United Nations-backed tribunal for genocide against ethnic minority groups, for which he remained unrepentant up until the end of his life.

Hundreds of family members, former comrades and friends lit incense and prayed next to his coffin at a temple in western Pailin province, where he was cremated late yesterday. The area was the last holdout of the Khmer Rouge after the regime collapsed.

Former Khmer Rouge naval chief Meas Muth, who has also been accused of genocide and crimes against humanity in a stalled criminal case, said he had come to "bid a final farewell" to his former superior.

Mourners knelt on rattan rugs next to a portrait of an elderly Nuon Chea wearing his trademark oversized sunglasses.

Later, as the hours-long funeral began, mourners looked on as his body was transferred to the crematorium in an open casket.

But even in death, his chequered legacy and his frequent attempts to downplay his crimes could not be ignored. "The allegations against him are so unjust. No leaders would kill their own people, otherwise they don't have people to lead," his daughter Ly Bunthoeun told Agence France-Presse. "He did not commit such (killings). He already explained in court," she added.

The reign of terror led by "Brother No. 1" Pol Pot left some two million Cambodians dead from overwork, starvation and mass executions from 1975 to 1979.

 

Nuon Chea was not arrested until 2007. He was convicted alongside former titular head of state Khieu Samphan, who is appealing against his sentence. They are among just a handful of former Khmer Rouge leaders to face justice in a country where deep divisions remain over the legacy of the murderous regime.

"Many other senior Khmer Rouge leaders were spared their day in court," Human Rights Watch said this week, calling on Prime Minister Hun Sen to push for more prosecutions.

But Mr Hun Sen - himself a former Khmer Rouge cadre - has come out against any further cases, claiming it would plunge the country into instability.

AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on August 10, 2019, with the headline 'Mourners pay last respects to Khmer Rouge leader'. Print Edition | Subscribe