Police arrested the former foreign minister of the brutal 1970s Khmer Rouge regime and his wife yesterday and brought them before Cambodia's UN-backed genocide tribunal to face charges of crimes against humanity and war crimes.
Former Khmer Rouge foreign minister Ieng Sary and his wife, Ieng Thirith, who served the regime as a minister for social affairs, were brought to tribunal facilities in Phnom Penh under warrants issued for both of them, a tribunal statement said.
The radical policies of the communist Khmer Rouge, who held power between 1975 and 1979, are widely blamed for the deaths of some 1.7 million people from starvation, disease, overwork and execution. None of the group's leaders have yet faced trial.
Both are accused of involvement in the slayings of political opponents, documents from prosecutors showed.
The arrests of Ieng Sary and his wife had been widely anticipated, as they were believed to be two of five unnamed suspects earlier listed by tribunal prosecutors. Two others have already been taken into custody.
Police detained the couple at their Phnom Penh residence at dawn. Officers later brought them "smoothly" to tribunal offices, where they were to make an initial appearance before the judges later yesterday, said Reach Sambath, a tribunal spokesman.
A woman, believed to be a relative of Ieng Sary and Ieng Thirith, was seen crying in a car that emerged from inside the house just after the police convoy carrying the Khmer Rouge couple had left.
Ieng Sary, thought to be 77, was not available for comment. But like other surviving Khmer Rouge leaders, he has repeatedly denied responsibility for any crimes.
The couple's children declined to comment, hanging up on phone calls made to them.
The tribunal was created last year after seven years of contentious negotiations between the UN and Cambodia. Critics have warned that the aging suspects could die before ever seeing a courtroom.
Ieng Sary served as a deputy prime minister as well as foreign minister in the Khmer Rouge regime.
Ieng Sary, "promoted, instigated, facilitated, encouraged and/or condoned the perpetration of the crimes" when the Khmer Rouge held power, according to a July 18 filing by the prosecutors to the tribunal's judges.
It said there was evidence of Ieng Sary's participation in crimes included planning, directing and coordinating the Khmer Rouge "policies of forcible transfer, forced labor and unlawful killings."
"I have done nothing wrong," Ieng Sary said last month in Bangkok where he was visiting for a medical checkup.
"I am a gentle person. I believe in good deeds. I even made good deeds to save several people's lives [during the regime]. But let them [the tribunal] find what the truth is," Ieng Sary said without elaborating.