updated 9/21/2007 8:29:16 AM ET 2007-09-21T12:29:16

Detained former Khmer Rouge leader Nuon Chea ordered the murder and torture of civilians when the communist group ruled Cambodia in the 1970s, investigating judges in a U.N-backed genocide tribunal said Friday.

The 81-year-old former Khmer Rouge ideologist was arrested and charged Wednesday with crimes against humanity and war crimes in connection with atrocities that caused the deaths of an estimated 1.7 million people during the Khmer Rouge’s 1975-79 rule.

The detailed detention order made public Friday by the tribunal’s co-investigating judges said Nuon Chea “planned, instigated, ordered, directed or otherwise aided and abetted in the commission” of crimes including “murder, torture, imprisonment, persecution, extermination, deportation, forcible transfer, enslavement and other inhumane acts.”

It also charged that he exercised authority and effective control over the group’s internal security apparatus, including detention centers.

Known as Brother No. 2, Nuon Chea allegedly laid out the Khmer Rouge “master plan,” which called for the abolition of money, religion, monks, and the expulsion of ethnic Vietnamese. He is the second, and highest-ranking, Khmer Rouge leader detained to appear before the panel.

Kaing Guek Eav, also known as Duch, who headed the former Khmer Rouge S-21 torture center, was charged on July 31 with crimes against humanity. Prosecutors have recommended three other suspects for trial, but have not named them publicly.

”Many documents and witness statements” have implicated Nuon Chea in the crimes he has been charged with, the detention order said.

No death penalty
The judges said he faces life imprisonment if convicted. Cambodia has no death penalty.

The detention order also cited Nuon Chea’s response to the allegations, including his claim that he and other leaders had no direct contact with lower-level Khmer Rouge units and were unaware of what they may have been doing.

He also said that all real power was in the hands of the group’s military committee, of which he was not a member.

The detention order said Nuon Chea’s provisional detention was necessary to prevent any pressure on witnesses or destruction of evidence, and that the crimes with which he is charged could provoke public ire that might endanger his own safety if he were at large. It also said he might try to flee.

The order gave Nuon Chea’s birth date as July 7, 1926, making him 81, a year younger than the age given by his family. Some Southeast Asian cultures count ages by regarding a person as 1 year old at birth.

‘A heavy burden’
Earlier Friday, a lawyer picked to represent Nuon Chea acknowledged he faced a “heavy burden” in defending his client.

Son Arun, a private attorney, said he met with Nuon Chea for the first time Thursday.

“There are many things for me to do, many documents for me to research. This is a heavy burden, but I am happy to take up the job,” Son Arun said.

Nuon Chea can also choose a foreign lawyer — an arrangement offered by the U.N.-backed Cambodian genocide tribunal, it said in a statement Friday.

The statement said Nuon Chea has claimed he does not have money to pay for his legal fees. If it is determined he cannot afford the legal fees, the tribunal will pick up the costs, it said.

Khmer Rouge chief Pol Pot died in 1998 and his former military chief, Ta Mok, died in 2006 in government custody.

Nuon Chea’s senior-level colleagues — former Foreign Minister Ieng Sary and former head of state Khieu Samphan — live freely in Cambodia but are in declining health. They are also widely believed to be on the prosecutors’ list.

Trials are expected to begin early next year.

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