After 30 years, victim of Khmer Rouge faces leader in court

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It has been three decades since the Khmer Rouge murdered the parents of Theary Seng and shackled her and her four-year-old brother in one of its jails.

But yesterday, she had only one question to ask of Nuon Chea, 81, one of the organisation's few surviving leaders, who is accused of genocide. "If Nuon Chea claimed he was not responsible, then who was for the loss of my parents and other victims' loved ones?" she asked. "What we know is that Nuon Chea was the second leader after Pol Pot."

Ms Seng came face to face with Mr Chea in the courtroom of the UN-assisted tribunal in Phnom Penh that has been established to try those surviving members of the Khmer Rouge, whose Maoist-inspired organisation seized power in Cambodia in 1975 and which was responsible for the deaths of more than 1.7 million of its own citizens.

There are five former regime leaders in the tribunal's custody – Mr Chea, Khieu Samphan, former foreign minister Ieng Sary and his wife, Ieng Thirith, and Kang Kek Iew.

Ms Seng, a Cambodian-American who works for a charity that monitors Cambodia's judiciary, says she felt no bitterness towards Mr Chea. "It is more exciting to see this [justice] being done. I have, in one small way, honoured my parents," she said.

Officials said it was the first time a victim had confronted a Khmer Rouge leader in a court. "It's extremely symbolic," Peter Foster, a tribunal spokesman, said. "We made history today."

Mr Chea has denied that he was involved in the genocide and insisted that he is not a "cruel man". Yet there is evidence that he was head of the regime's internal security division and he is widely credited with being the regime's main ideologist.