Khmer Rouge chief Nuon Chea expresses 'remorse' over regime's crimes
Nuon Chea expresses remorse, but denies awareness of all leadership's crimes
Agence France-Presse in Phnom Penh
The Khmer Rouge's former number two admitted for the first time yesterday he felt responsibility and remorse for the actions of a regime blamed for the deaths of up to two million people in the late 1970s.
Survivors welcomed the remarks as a step towards achieving justice for the atrocities committed during the 1975-79 "Killing Fields" era in Cambodia.
"I am not trying to evade my responsibility," Nuon Chea, 86, who has denied charges of war crimes, genocide and crimes against humanity, said during his trial at a UN-backed court hailed as a key chance for reconciliation.
"As a leader, I must take responsibility for the damage, the danger to my nation," he said, expressing his "deepest condolences" to witnesses testifying at the tribunal who lost relatives under the regime.
He later added: "I feel remorseful for the crimes that were committed intentionally or unintentionally, whether or not I had known about it or not known about it."
He added that he was not aware of all of the Khmer Rouge's actions in his role overseeing propaganda and education.
"As for the executive branch, I had no power whatsoever. So about what happened during the Khmer Rouge period - certain things I was aware of, but other things I was not aware of," he said.
Survivors welcomed the expression of remorse.
"This is the right thing to do. He accepts responsibility," said Bou Meng, 72, one of a handful of people to survive incarceration at the Khmer Rouge's Tuol Sleng prison in Phnom Penh.
"I'm very glad. In the end, he admits … the killings and his mistake," he said.
Nuon Chea, the most senior surviving leader of the "Killing Fields" era, is on trial alongside former Khmer Rouge head of state Khieu Samphan, 81, who has also denied charges of war crimes, genocide and crimes against humanity.
Khieu Samphan also expressed a "sincere apology" in court yesterday, adding: "I was not aware of the heinous acts committed by other leaders that caused tragedy for the nation and people.
"I strongly condemn their heinous acts and urge these perpetrators to be brought to justice."