PHNOM PENH - Two former Khmer Rouge leaders denied any guilt for crimes against humanity on Thursday at the last hearing of an international court where they are on trial.
Both Nuon Chea, formerly known as Pol Pot’s Brother Number Two, and former head of state Khieu Samphan, said they were they were not responsible for crimes that occurred under the Khmer Rouge regime.
Nuon Chea, 87, and Khieu Samphan, 82, have been on trial for almost two years on charges of crimes against humanity and genocide between 1975 and 1979, when 1.7 million people were executed or died from overwork or starvation at the hands of the regime.
"I didn't have any knowledge of the crimes committed," Nuon Chea told the court, asking that he be fully acquitted and released.
"Nonetheless I would like to express my deepest remorse and moral responsibility to the victims and Cambodian people who suffered," he continued, adding that in a sense he was responsible because of a loss of control within the regime.
For his part Khieu Samphan said he had only wanted "peace and prosperity for Cambodia."
"It's easy to say that I should have known everything," he said. "Do you really think that that was what I wanted to happen to my people?"
"Today it is clear that everyone only wants one thing from me: my admission of guilt to the charges against me," he told the court, asking the judges to deliver a fair verdict.
Nuon Chea waits before making his final statements to the United Nations-backed war crimes tribunal in Phnom Penh on Thursday. (AP Photo)
His co-accused Nuon Chea said he only learned of the horrors committed after the fall of the government.
Repeating a common refrain of his, he blamed outside elements - United States and Vietnamese spies - for infiltrating the regime and subverting what he painted as his and fellow leaders’ utopian dream of an egalitarian society.
"I love my people. I would never intentionally kill my people or commit genocide," he said, adding that Pol Pot’s regime set out to fight already rampant corruption.
They also wanted to protect the country from invasion, he said, noting that the US war with Vietnam also threatened Cambodia.
“The US dropped bombs on villages, rice fields and pagodas” he said. "Is this not a crime against humanity?"
The octogenarian also claimed he had not wielded much real power.
"Pol Pot had overall executive power in leading," he said.
The hybrid national and United Nations tribunal was set up in 2006 to try perpetrators for the worst crimes under Pol Pot’s ultra-Maoist regime.
Thursday marked the final day of the landmark trial, in which there were originally four defendants, and throughout which many feared that the aging leaders would not live to see a verdict.
Former foreign minister Ieng Sary died earlier this year and his wife Ieng Thirith was declared unfit for trial due to advanced dementia.
A verdict is due early next year.
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