‘He Died Easier Than the People He Killed’

Vicheika Kann and Reaksmey Hul in Phnom Penh, and Chenda Hong in Washington contributed to this report.

In his most recent photos, Nuon Chea looks like somebody’s grandfather, wearing big dark glasses that suggest a sensitivity to light possibly tied to other medical problems.

Not that long ago, he’d gone from tottering as he walked to using a wheelchair. There were whispers of liver problems and kidney troubles and whatever else happens as a human body passes through its ninth decade.

That longevity eluded some 1.7 million Cambodians who died between 1975 to 1979, as the Khmer Rouge tried, and failed, to turn Cambodia into a self-sufficient agrarian utopia. Nuon Chea, known as Brother No. 2, is widely believed to have been the mastermind behind the development of a Maoist society without money, religion or intellectuals envisioned by the regime’s founder, Pol Pot, who died in 1998. 

Nuon Chea was appealing his Nov. 16, 2018, conviction for genocide when he died on Sunday in Khmer Soviet Friendship Hospital in Phnom Penh. He had been in care since July 2. At age 93, he was serving a life sentence for a 2014 conviction for crimes against humanity. 

“He died easier than the people he killed,” said Sun Sitha, 58, a resident of Siem Reap who lost her father and three siblings to the Khmer Rouge. “He separated people from their families, and hurt them. He deserved to die.”

FILE: Khmer Rouge ‘Brother Number Two’ Nuon Chea attends a public hearing at the Extraordinary Chambers in the Courts of Cambodia, on the outskirts of Phnom Penh, October 19, 2011.

Silent as to actions

If Nuon Chea was the mastermind behind Cambodia’s genocide, the details died with him. He never spoke in court of how the Khmer Rouge executed their plan to achieve a new regime. He never admitted guilt. He maintained that the Khmer Rouge were nationalists, fighting Viet Nam, and the United States, which engaged “secret” bombings of Cambodia as it tracked the communist Viet Cong during the Vietnam War.

Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen is a former Khmer Rouge fighter who has been in power since 1985. Hun Sen, the increasingly authoritarian leader of the ruling Cambodian People’s Party, has spoken out against reopening investigations into that era.

Liv Sovanna, one of Noun Chea’s lawyers, said at a Sunday press conference in Phnom Penh after Nuon Chea’s death that his client was innocent because “when the defendant dies, the lawsuit is dissolved.” Thus, the verdict issued by the Extraordinary Chambers of the Courts in Cambodia (ECCC), the tribunal that tried Nuon Chea and other Khmer Rouge leaders, “has no effect any longer because, based on the presumption of innocence, Nuon Chea is innocent.”

The controversial ECCC convicted Khmer Rouge torture center chief, Kaing Guek Eav, also known as Comrade Duch in 2010 and found guilty Khmer Rouge leader Khieu Samphan in 2014. In 2018, just as with Nuon Chea, they were sentenced to life imprisonment for crimes against humanity and genocide. Two other top suspects — Ieng Sary and Ieng Thirith — died before their cases could be concluded.

Cambodia is a young country. Only about 10% of the population are, like Sun Sitha, in their 50s or older. Half its 16.5 million people are under the age of 22. If their parents survived the Khmer Rouge, they rarely speak of their experiences because many Cambodians believe that would transmit the suffering to their children. 

That means most Cambodians have no direct experience of the Khmer Rouge, who were known to execute teachers, doctors, ethnic Vietnamese, with pickaxes rather than spend money on bullets.

Cambodian former Khmer Rouge survivors, Soum Rithy, left, and Chum Mey, right, embrace each other after the verdicts were announced at the U.N.-backed war crimes tribunal in Phnom Penh, Cambodia, Thursday, Aug. 7, 2014.

Knows history

Yuth Kunthea, a 25-year-old resident of Siem Reap, does know about Noun Chea and the Khmer Rouge.

“I’m not sorry that he died because he caused the deaths of tens of thousands of people, he hurt people, and separated them from their family members,” she said, adding she learned about the regime in school. “We lost a lot of good Khmer people.”

The Khmer Rouge buried the bodies in mass graves, dubbed “killing fields,” like the one near Trung Bat, in northern Cambodia, where the Khmer Rouge maintained a prison and a crematorium.

Many of the remains were ground down to make fertilizer in an effort to meet quotas for the rice crop. Others, like those found by soil excavators in 2012, were buried intact with arms bound behind them or weighed down by rocks, according to the Documentation Center of Cambodia (DC-CAM). 

“No one can forget him,” said Lat Lon, a 73-year-old monk from Teputhyvong Temple, the site of a mass grave, in Siem Reap province. “We have no peace of mind. They tortured people, so he deserved to die. People should have peace of mind.”

According to Buddhist beliefs, even though Noun Chea and other Khmer Rouge leaders are dead, the souls of their victims and those who survived still do not have a peaceful mind. 

“How can they have peace of mind?” Lat Lon asked. “According to the Dharma, dead people still miss their family members.”

‘He died with sin’

Youk Chhang, the DC-CAM executive director in Phnom Penh and a survivor of the Khmer Rouge regime, told VOA Khmer by phone that Nuon Chea cannot escape his deeds in death despite the law’s presumption of innocence.

“He was born like all of us but he committed sins and he died with sin,” he said. 

Nuon Chea died without the dignity that comes with age, said Youk Chhang, and his death is drawing mixed reactions. 

“Some I asked immediately [after Nuon Chea died] said they are not happy because when he was alive, he was defiant about what he had done,” Youk Chhang said. “He did not … give a value of the history to the next generation.” Even after the verdict, “he was still defiant for what he did and he was responsible.”

Documentary filmmaker Thet Sambath interviewed Nuon Chea extensively in the late 1990s, and then co-produced the 2009 award-winning documentary “Enemies of the People,” about the Khmer Rouge leadership. Just after Nuon Chea’s death, Thet Sambath, who lives in Massachusetts, told VOA Khmer by phone that he was grateful to Nuon Chea for “giving me historical documents and secret stories about the Khmer Rouge,” he said. “It’s very lucky for Cambodian people” to have this information, he added.

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China Vows ‘Countermeasures’ If US Deploys Missiles in Asia-Pacific

China says it will take “countermeasures” if the United States deploys ground-based intermediate-range missiles in the Asia-Pacific region.  

Fu Cong, the director of the Foreign Ministry’s arms control division, told reporters Tuesday that Beijing “will not stand idly by” if Washington follows through on a pledge made last weekend by new Defense Secretary Mark Esper to deploy the missiles in the region “sooner rather than later,” preferably within months. 

He urged China’s neighbors, specifically Japan, South Korea and Australia, to “exercise prudence” by refusing to deploy the U.S. missiles, adding that it would serve those countries national security interests.  

Fu did not specify what countermeasures China would take, but said “everything is on the table.” 

Secretary Esper’s stated goal to deploy ground-based missiles in the region came after the Trump administration formally pulled the U.S. out of the 1987 Intermediate Nuclear Forces Treaty last week. The pact, reached with the former Soviet Union, bans ground-based nuclear and conventional ballistic missiles with a range between 500-5,000 kilometers. Washington said it withdrew from the INF because of continued violations by Moscow.  

Fu said China had no interest in taking part in trilateral talks with the United States and Russia due to the “huge gap” in the size of China’s nuclear arsenal compared to the other two nations.  

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US Farmers Suffer ‘Body Blow’ as China Slams Door on Farm Purchases

Chinese companies have stopped buying U.S. agricultural products, China’s Commerce Ministry said on Tuesday, a blow to U.S. farmers who have already seen their exports slashed by the more than year-old trade war.

China may impose additional tariffs on U.S. farm products bought shortly before the purchase ban took effect, China’s Commerce Ministry said. China also let the yuan weaken past the key 7-per-dollar level on Monday for the first time in more than a decade.

Before the trade war started, China bought $19.5 billion worth of farm goods in 2017, mainly soybeans, dairy, sorghum and pork. The trade war reduced those sales to $9.1 billion in 2018, according to the American Farm Bureau.

China’s Ministry of Commerce said in a statement it hoped the United States would keep its promises and create the “necessary conditions” for bilateral cooperation.

U.S. President Donald Trump said on Thursday that Beijing had not fulfilled a promise to buy large volumes of U.S. farm products and vowed to impose new tariffs on around $300 billion of Chinese goods, abruptly ending a truce in the Sino-U.S. trade war.

Earlier, China’s state broadcaster CCTV reported an official from China’s National Development and Reform Commission (NDRC) as saying Trump’s accusations were “groundless.”

China is the world’s top buyer of soybeans, the most valuable U.S. export crop. The Trump administration has announced plans to spend up to $28 billion compensating U.S. farmers, a key Trump constituency, for lost income from trade disputes.

American Farm Bureau Federation President Zippy Duvall called the announcement “a body blow to thousands of farmers and ranchers who are already struggling to get by.”

In this June 25, 2019, photo, farmer Matthew Keller walks through one of his pig barns near Kenyon, Minn. When the Trump administration announced a $12 billion aid package for farmers struggling under the financial strain of his trade.

The National Pork Producers Council said in an email it was important to end the trade war so pork producers could “more fully participate in a historic sales opportunity.”

Farmers can start applying for the next round of trade aid this month, but trade uncertainty makes long-term planning difficult.

“We’ve been thankful for the aid payments. They have helped but we’d rather have open markets because it creates stability in our financial sectors,” said Derek Sawyer, 39, a corn, soybean, wheat and cattle farm from McPherson, Kansas. “There’s just so much volatility right now because nobody knows the rules of the game and nobody knows how to look at things going forward.”

China is buying more soybeans from Brazil. Its overall need for soybeans used to feed livestock has fallen as African Swine Fever kills millions of pigs. U.S. meat exporters had hoped to take advantage of the disease to export more pork to China but 62% retaliatory tariffs have limited exports.

Overall, China has purchased about 14.3 million tons of last season’s soybean crop, the least in 11 years, and some 3.7 million tons still need to be shipped, according to U.S. data.

China bought 32.9 million tons of U.S. soybeans in 2017, before the trade war.

China applied a 25% tariff on soybeans in July of last year in response to U.S. tariffs on Chinese goods.

China is honoring agreements signed earlier to import U.S. soybeans, according to Cong Liang, secretary general of China’s NDRC, CCTV reported. The report said that 2.27 million tons of U.S. soybeans had been loaded and shipped to China in July, since Trump met Chinese President Xi Jinping in Osaka at the G20 summit at the end of June.

FILE – A grain salesman shows locally grown soybeans in Ohio, April 5, 2018.

China bought 130,000 tons of soybeans, 120,000 tons of sorghum, 60,000 tons of wheat, 40,000 tons of pork and products, and 25,000 tons of cotton from the United States between July 19 and Aug. 2, Cong said according to the report.

Weekly U.S. data on Aug. 1 confirmed the first new U.S. soybean sale to China since June, of 68,000 tons from the crop that will be harvested this fall. Additional sales through Aug. 1 could be recorded in the next U.S. government export sales report on Thursday.

Two million tons of U.S. soybeans destined for China will be loaded in August, followed by another 300,000 tons in September, Cong said.

However, the U.S. Department of Agriculture said on Monday less than 600,000 tons of soybeans were inspected for export to China the week ended Aug. 1, fewer than the previous week.

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Climate Change to Cause Chaos in Africa, Warn Scientists

Climate change will hit many African countries more severely than previously thought, according to a new report. Researchers warn that rapid population growth means more and more people will be hit by extreme weather events across the continent in the coming years. Henry Ridgwell reports.

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US Seeks to Renew Pacific Islands Security Pact to Foil China

U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said on Monday negotiations have begun with three Pacific island nations to renew a national security agreement that would help Washington counter growing Chinese influence in the region.

Under the terms of the deal, known as the Compact of Free Association, the U.S. military have exclusive access to airspace and territorial waters of the Federated States of Micronesia, the Marshall Islands and Palau. In exchange, the small islands receive financial assistance.

“Today, I am here to confirm the United States will help you protect your sovereignty, your security, your right to live in freedom and peace,” Pompeo told reporters in Pohnpei State, one of four members of the Federated States of Micronesia.

“I’m pleased to announce the United States has begun negotiations on extending our compacts…. they sustain democracy in the face of Chinese efforts to redraw the Pacific.”

Pompeo, who is the first U.S. Secretary of State to visit Micronesia, spoke after meeting the leaders of Micronesia, the Marshall Islands and Palau.

The three tiny Pacific nations have gained greater strategic significance in recent years due a push by China into the region. During a visit to Sydney on Sunday, U.S. Defense Secretary Mark Esper described China’s actions as both “aggressive” and “destabilizing”.

Laying the foundations for negotiations, U.S. President Donald Trump in May hosted the leaders of the Federated States of Micronesia, the Marshall Islands and Palau – a rare state visit for such small countries.

The agreement is due to expire in 2024, and any lapse could have created a potential opening for China.

“Federated States of Micronesia form part of the second island chain that China sees as a way of containing their strategic ambitions,” said Jonathan Pryke, director of the Pacific Islands program at the Lowy Institute, a Sydney think tank.

“The relationship is a critical one, but China is increasing its pursuit of the region.”

China has become the region’s biggest bilateral lender during the past decade, although U.S. allies including Japan, Australia and New Zealand have retained “and in some instances recently increased” their already significant aid programs to Pacific island economies.

Reuters analysis of budget documents shows that most of China’s concessionary loans have flowed to those Pacific island economies with which it has strong diplomatic ties, including Fiji, Papua New Guinea, Tonga, Samoa and Vanuatu.

Countries that have retained ties to Taiwan – like Palau, Kiribati and Solomon Islands – have limited Chinese investment.


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Classmates: Ohio Shooter Kept ‘Hit List’ and ‘Rape List’

High school classmates of the gunman who killed nine people early Sunday in Dayton, Ohio, say he was suspended for compiling a “hit list” of those he wanted to kill and a “rape list” of girls he wanted to sexually assault.

The accounts by two former classmates emerged after police said there was nothing in the background of 24-year-old Connor Betts that would have prevented him from purchasing the .223-caliber rifle with extended ammunition magazines that he used to open fire outside a crowded bar. Police on patrol in the entertainment district fatally shot him less than a minute later.

Both former classmates told The Associated Press that Betts was suspended during their junior year at suburban Bellbrook High School after a hit list was found scrawled in a school bathroom. That followed an earlier suspension after Betts came to school with a list of female students he wanted to sexually assault, according to the two classmates, a man and a woman who are both now 24 and spoke on condition of anonymity out of concern they might face harassment.

“There was a kill list and a rape list, and my name was on the rape list,” said the female classmate.

This undated photo provided Dayton Police shows Connor Betts. In mask and body armor, the 24-year-old opened fire early Sunday, Aug. 4, 2019, in an entertainment district in Dayton, Ohio, killing several people, including his sister, officials said.

A former cheerleader, the woman said she didn’t really know Betts and was surprised when a police officer called her cellphone during her freshman year to tell her that her name was included on a list of potential targets.

“The officer said he wouldn’t be at school for a while,” she said. “But after some time passed he was back, walking the halls. They didn’t give us any warning that he was returning to school.”

Bellbrook-Sugarcreek Schools officials declined to comment on those accounts, only confirming that Betts attended schools in the district.

The discovery of the hit list early in 2012 sparked a police investigation, and roughly one-third of Bellbrook students skipped school out of fear, according to an article in the Dayton Daily News.

It’s not clear what became of that investigation. Chief Michael Brown in Sugarcreek Township, which has jurisdiction over the Bellbrook school, did not return calls Sunday about whether his agency investigated the hit list.

Though Betts, who was 17 at the time, was not named publicly by authorities at the time as the author of the list, the former classmates said it was common knowledge within the school he was the one suspended over the incident.

Drew Gainey was among those who went on social media Sunday to say red flags were raised about Betts’ behavior years ago.

“There was an incident in high school with this shooter that should have prevented him from ever getting his hands on a weapon. This was a tragedy that was 100% avoidable,” he wrote on in a Twitter post on Sunday.

Gainey did not respond to messages from AP seeking further comment, but the name on his account matches that of a former Bellbrook student who was on the track team with Betts.

Former Bellbrook Principal Chris Baker said he “would not dispute that information” when the Daily News asked him Sunday about the hit list suspension. He declined to comment further to the newspaper and the AP was unable to reach him.

Betts had no apparent criminal record as an adult, though if he had been charged as a juvenile that would typically be sealed under state law.

“There’s nothing in this individual’s record that would have precluded him from getting these weapons,” Dayton Police Chief Richard Biehl said Sunday.

Not everyone who went to school with Betts had bad things to say. Brad Howard told reporters in Bellbrook on Sunday that he was friends with Betts from preschool through their high school graduation.

“Connor Betts that I knew was a nice kid. The Connor Betts that I talked to, I always got along with well,” Howard said.

Mike Kern, a customer at the gas station where Betts used to work in Bellbrook, said he hasn’t seen Betts in about a year.

“He was the nicest kid you could imagine,” always friendly, Kern said. “I never heard him talk about violence, say a racist word, or anything like that.”

He said they sometimes played trivia at a bar near the gas station, and Betts often knew the answers on questions about current events and pop culture.

“He was real smart,” Kern said. “He knew all the answers.”

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New US Defense Chief Slams China on 1st Asian Visit

Secretary of Defense Mark Esper has slammed China’s “destabilizing” actions in the Indo-Pacific region during his first trip to the region.

Speaking to reporters in Sydney with Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and their Australian counterparts, Esper said the United States is “firmly against a disturbing pattern of aggressive behavior, destabilizing behavior from China.”

Esper and Pompeo pointed to Beijing’s militarization of islands in the South China Sea and accused it of promoting the state-sponsored theft of other nation’s intellectual property, and “predatory economics.”

The last was an apparent reference to so-called “debt traps” like a 2017 arrangement that gave China control of a port in Sri Lanka. After failing to keep up with its debt payments to China, Sri Lanka handed over the port and 15,000 acres of land to the Chinese government for 99 years.

China has arguably undertaken the largest transfer of intellectual property in human history, according to Bradley Bowman, the senior director of the Center on Military and Political Power at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies.

Bowman told VOA that intellectual property stolen by Beijing has been used to modernize Chinese weapons which, in the event of a future military conflict, would be used to kill Americans and their allies.

“The United States will not stand by idly while any one nation attempts to reshape the region to its favor at the expense of others,” Esper said.

U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, left, listens as Australian Foreign Minister Marise Payne makes a point during a press conference following annual bilateral talks in Sydney, Australia, Aug. 4, 2019.

Pompeo said Sunday the United States was not asking nations to “choose” between the U.S. and China.

However, allies in the region have grown increasingly worried amid increasing economic and military tensions between China and the United States.

Australian Foreign Minister Marise Payne praised the strong “mateship” between the United States and Australia, but added that China is also a vitally important partner for her country.

“It’s in no one’s interest for the Indo-Pacific to become more competitive or adversarial in character,” she said.

Southeast Asian nations grappled with the prospect of choosing sides in June during the annual Shangri-la Dialogue defense forum in Singapore. The question loomed so large that Singapore Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong warned of smaller countries being “forced” to take sides.


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