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Friday, 15 March, 2002, 18:23 GMT
Brother Number Two enjoys retirement
Brother Number Two was Pol Pot's deputy during the murderous frenzy in the killing fields. Hundreds of thousands were executed and more than a million died from starvation and disease. He was the man responsible for mass murder. Phil Rees reports on the searing anguish that has scarred Cambodia.
It was his laugh that got to me. A smug, self-satisfying chuckle that punctuated his answers.
Brother Number Two
It did not matter that the questions were about mass murder. Torture. The annihilation of nearly a quarter of the Cambodian nation. They still brought a smile to his lips and a chortle or two. "Good humour is in my nature," he told me, "I have no worries."
Nuon Chea, known as Brother Number Two, served as Pol Pot's ideologue and loyal lieutenant for more than thirty years. He was Deputy General Secretary of Cambodia's Communist Party - known to the outside as the Khmer Rouge.
Pol Pot, Brother Number One, died in 1998 when the Khmer Rouge finally collapsed after waging a 20 year rebellion from the jungles of northern Cambodia.
Nuon Chea is the most senior surviving member of the regime that ordered the turmoil that led to the killing fields from 1975-79.
He lives with his wife and grandchildren in a traditional, wooden house on stilts near the border with Thailand. Now 76, he looks well and his mind remains sharp. He seemed keen to see me.
"I want to show my people that I am a good man," he declared without irony.
Nuon Chea now has reason to be confident. While Slobodan Milosevic was taken to the dock amid fanfare at The Hague, the United Nations announced that it was abandoning attempts to establish a war crimes tribunal in Cambodia.
It is now unlikely that more than a tiny few of the men responsible for the carnage of the killing fields will be brought to account.
Nuon Chea brazenly claims to know nothing about the carnage that took place around him - a crass denial, stomach wrenching in its absurdity.
He adds that through his endeavours for the Communist Party he had sacrificed his own life for the betterment of the Cambodian people: "We dared to give up our lives to protect our nation. Otherwise our nation would have disappeared and our people would have encountered hardship."
Under the Khmer Rouge, Cambodia had been transformed in a gigantic labour camp. Hundreds of thousands perished from overwork, disease and malnutrition. Yet Nuon Chea makes a remarkable assertion: "Doing agricultural work made people have enough food to eat and have proper clothes constantly."
Displaying no remorse, he boasts: "I have never stayed awake at night or shed any tears."
It was the noted tyrant Josef Stalin who said that one death was a tragedy while a million deaths was just a statistic. For me, the story of one death would speak volumes about the searing pain that still lacerates Cambodian society a quarter of a century after the slaughter.
Chum Mai is a small, frail man now in his sixties. He had worked for the Khmer Rouge as a mechanic. During our discussion, I asked what had happened to his wife. He broke down. Uncontrollably. He cried for nearly half an hour. No comforting could stop him.
Khmer Rouge soldiers in the dead of night arrested him and his wife at gunpoint. In the darkness, they were separated. He then heard gunshots and his wife's screams.
Chum Mai jumped into a nearby ditch and crawled away. He soon realised that his wife had been shot dead. He is now torn up by guilt. A man broken by the thought that he had fled and left his wife to face her executioner alone.
Chum Mai's story explodes with pain. The Khmer Rouge took his children away - today he does not know whether they are alive or dead. He was tortured in the regime's secret prison, code-named S-21. His toenails were ripped out and he was repeatedly electrocuted.
He pleaded for the outside world to avenge the death of his wife and the torture he had endured. What he wanted most was for Nuon Chea to be brought before a court.
For nearly five years, the United Nations had been negotiating with Prime Minister Hun Sen over control of the legal process. The Cambodian Government refused to allow international law to override national legislation, so the UN pulled out.
The recent history of Cambodia is one where deals were struck to bring peace rather than justice to Cambodia.
Khmer Rouge leaders were treated as statesmen at peace accords in Paris 1991. For a decade after the killing fields were discovered, the United Nations recognised the Khmer Rouge as part of the legitimate government of Cambodia.
The present King was their ally for 20 years. China armed the guerrilla group throughout the 1980s, despite full knowledge of the mass killing.
At one time the Royal Thai Police - with the full knowledge of western governments - escorted Pol Pot, wearing Hawaiian shirt and sunglasses, to the beaches on Thailand's southern coast.
The outside world had ample opportunity to arrest Pol Pot, Nuon Chea and their accomplices in the past.
Now their victims are left devastated by the UN's decision to cancel plans to establish a war crimes tribunal in Cambodia.
Brother Number Two enjoys retirement: Sunday 17 March 2002 on BBC Two at 1915GMT.
Reporter: Phil Rees
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