PAILIN, Cambodia – The daughter of the Khmer Rouge’s chief ideologue, who was sentenced to life in prison after being convicted of genocide and crimes against humanity, stood by her father on Thursday, insisting that he had “done nothing wrong” as his friends and family prepared for the final day of his funeral in Cambodia’s Pailin province.
Nuon Chea, known as “Brother Number Two” for being regime leader Pol Pot’s right-hand man, died on Sunday evening at the age of 93.
His eldest daughter Ly Bunthoen, 58, told EFE her father was “a good man, a good person and a good friend.”
More than 1.7 million people – around a quarter of the Cambodian population – died from execution, starvation and forced labor during the Khmer Rouge’s rule from 1975-79 in which it set out to establish an agrarian utopia.
When asked about her father’s unrepentance for his role in the brutal regime, Ly Bunthoen said: “My father did nothing wrong. He struggled for the people.”
Nuon Chea’s last words were a call for love and unity, and for his family to help each other, Ly Bounthoen said, recounting her last moments with her father before he died.
She said she had known for a long time he was dying; on Sunday morning, he was dizzy and did not improve.
Nuon Chea’s body lay Thursday in an ornate metal gold-and-blue coffin at a temple under construction on the Thai border, where he had arrived on Monday. Funeral rites have been conducted all week.
On Thursday, about 50 people gathered to say their goodbyes, including friends and family as well as former cadres of the Communist Party of Kampuchea (the Khmer Rouge’s official name). As incense smoke wafted around the room, people prayed in front of his coffin and chanted with Buddhist monks.
On Friday evening, the funeral will conclude as his body is cremated. After 100 days, the family is set to decide on a future memorial site.
Nuon Chea was arrested in 2007 and sentenced to life in prison in 2014 for crimes against humanity by the United Nations-backed court in Phnom Penh.
Last year, the court handed him a second life sentence for genocide and crimes against humanity, among others, which is still pending an appeal.
The trials against the leaders of the Khmer Rouge began in 2011 with two other defendants: former Foreign Minister Ieng Sary and his wife and former Minister of Social Affairs, Ieng Thirith, who died in 2013 and 2015, respectively.
Pol Pot died in 1998 at the last bastion of the Maoist guerrillas in the jungles of northern Cambodia.
The court, set up in 2006 after a long negotiation between the UN and the Cambodian government, has received criticism for the duration of the process, its high cost ($300 million) and political interference from the government.
The first verdict was issued in July 2010 against Kaing Guek Eav, aka Duch, who was initially sentenced to 35 years. On appeal, the punishment was raised to life imprisonment for his responsibility in the torture and death of more than 12,000 people at the Tuol Sleng prison.