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Nuon Chea, An Architect Of Khmer Rouge's Genocidal Restructuring Of Cambodia, Dies


One of the last surviving leaders of Cambodia's murderous Khmer Rouge has died at the age of 93. He had been serving a sentence of life in prison. Michael Sullivan reports from neighboring Thailand.

MICHAEL SULLIVAN, BYLINE: Nuon Chea was known as Brother No. 2, second only to Khmer Rouge leader Pol Pot in the hierarchy of the regime that ruled the country from 1975 to 1979. During that time, an estimated 1.7 to 2 million people, roughly a quarter of the population, died from starvation, disease, overwork or murder. Nuon Chea was believed to be the ideologue of the group. After the Khmer Rouge fell, he lived quietly for years at a former Khmer Rouge stronghold near the Thai border and consistently denied that the Khmer Rouge were bad people or had done anything wrong. But he was finally arrested in 2007, after the establishment of the joint Cambodian United Nations tribunal, created to try the most senior members of the Khmer Rouge. And in 2014, he was sentenced to life. Here's the judge, speaking through an interpreter.


UNIDENTIFIED JUDGE: Pursuant through Articles 529, new, and 39, new, of ECCC law, the trial chamber finds the accused, Nuon Chea, guilty of the crimes against humanity of extermination, encompassing murder, political persecution and other inhumane acts.

SULLIVAN: Khieu Samphan, the former regime's head of state, was convicted alongside Nuon Chea. In November 2018, both men were also convicted of genocide. The two were the only senior leaders to answer in court for their crimes. Two other senior defendants died during the course of the trial, which drew criticism for its slow pace, bloated budget and alleged political interference. The only other conviction came in a separate trial for the infamous prison commander known as Duch, who served under Nuon Chea. He was also sentenced to life imprisonment. Eighty-eight-year-old Khieu Samphan remains in prison. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Michael Sullivan is NPR's Senior Asia Correspondent. He moved to Hanoi to open NPR's Southeast Asia Bureau in 2003. Before that, he spent six years as NPR's South Asia correspondent based in but seldom seen in New Delhi.
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