A UN-backed tribunal in Cambodia arrested the former Khmer Rouge head of state yesterday, the fifth senior official of the brutal regime to be rounded up ahead of a long-delayed genocide trial.
Police escorted Khieu Samphan, 76, to the tribunal from a Phnom Penh hospital where he had been undergoing treatment since last Wednesday after suffering a stroke a day earlier.
Officers held Khieu Samphan's arms to support him as they led him to a police car, which sped away in a heavily guarded convoy.
Tribunal spokesman Reach Sambath, who announced the arrest, said Khieu Samphan would be formally charged by investigating judges later in the day. The statement did not say what charges he faced.
Khieu Samphan's wife So Socheat said her husband has chosen French lawyer Jacques Verges to represent him. Verges' previous clients include Venezuelan terrorist Carlos the Jackal, Nazi war criminal Klaus Barbie and former Yugoslav president Slobodan Milosevic. Khieu Samphan's defense team is also expected to include a Cambodian lawyer.
The arrests of the Khmer Rouge suspects come almost three decades after the group fell from power, and many fear the aging suspects could die before being brought to justice. After years of delays, the tribunal is expected to begin next year.
Most historians and researchers believe the radical policies of the Khmer Rouge, which sought a utopian communist state, led to the deaths of at least 1.7 million Cambodians through starvation, disease, overwork and execution.
An insight into Khieu Samphan's defense hit bookstores last week, when he published his version of the Khmer Rouge's story.
In Reflection on Cambodian History Up to the Era of Democratic Kampuchea, Khieu Samphan says the Khmer Rouge only wanted what was best for Cambodia.
``There was no policy of starving people. Nor was there any direction set out for carrying out mass killings,'' he wrote. "There was always close consideration of the people's well-being."
He writes that the Khmer Rouge was resilient ``in the struggle to defend national sovereignty, [and] in demanding social justice.''
Khieu Samphan describes Pol Pot, the regime's late leader, as a patriot concerned with social justice and fighting foreign enemies.
He "sacrificed his entire life ... to defend national sovereignty," the book says.
However, Khieu Samphan assigns Pol Pot with responsibility for the group's policies, and says he was involved in the purges of any Khmer Rouge suspected to be disloyal or spies, claiming they probably numbered in the hundreds.
Khieu Samphan's arrest by the tribunal had been widely expected.
A week ago, authorities arrested Ieng Sary, the Khmer Rouge's ex-foreign minister, and his wife Ieng Thirith, its social affairs minister. Both were charged with crimes against humanity; Ieng Sary was also charged with war crimes. The genocide tribunal formally placed them in provisional detention for up to a year.
Former Khmer Rouge ideologist Nuon Chea and Kaing Guek Eav, also known as Duch, who headed the group's S-21 torture center -- were detained earlier this year on charges of war crimes and crimes against humanity.