Cambodian police have arrested former head of state Khieu Samphan in a hospital in the capital Phnom Penh. The 76-year-old former leader will be the fifth suspect to be tried by the Cambodia Tribunal. Khieu Samphan is accused of being co-responsible for the killing of an estimated 1.7 million Cambodians during the years in which the Khmer Rouge ruled the country, from 1975 until the beginning of 1979.
Khieu Samphan says he never knew how much the Cambodian people suffered under the regime of Khmer Rouge leader Pol Pot. He says it was never the Khmer Rouge’s intention to kill so many people.
In his history of Cambodia, which he completed just before his arrest, Khieu Samphan writes that the mass famines which took place when people were driven from the cities to the countryside were not part of an overall plan.
The former Khmer Rouge leader lived until recently in a secluded village near the Thai border. He was flown to hospital in the capital Phnom Penh after falling ill last week. Police officers arrested him on Monday morning and brought him to the Cambodia Tribunal’s prison. He is expected to be charged with crimes against humanity.
Student turned Khmer leader
In the 1950s Khieu Samphan studied economics and politics in Paris. His doctoral thesis advocated self-reliance and argued that poverty in developing countries was caused by the policies of the industrialised Western nations.
He helped found the Khmer Students’ Association. Many of its members became the leaders of Pol Pot’s Khmer Rouge regime, which was based on an extremist Marxist ideology.
Khieu Samphan served as Deputy Prime Minister during the coalition government of Prince Norodom Sihanouk with the Khmer Rouge. He would later help Pol Pot with his insurgency in the jungle and take part in the 1975 coup which led to the Khmer Rouge regime.
Khieu Samphan’s arrest means that all of the Cambodia Tribunal’s most important suspects are in custody. The first trials are expected to be held at the beginning of next year. The current Cambodian elite has been able to delay the tribunal for many years, undoubtedly because many of its members were involved in the Khmer Rouge regime. The Cambodia Tribunal was finally set up in 2006 as a result of intense international pressure.