Phnom Penh (dpa) - The Cambodian court set up to bring former leaders of Pol Pot's Khmer Rouge regime to justice on Wednesday took custody of the man known as Brother Number 2, Nuon Chea, and began interviewing him regarding alleged crimes against humanity.
Court officials confirmed he was arrested by a group of officials including military police, senior Interior Ministry police and UN officials at his home in Pailin on the Thai border, 400 kilometres north-west of the capital, early Wednesday morning.
He was escorted by Russian-made MI 18 military helicopter to the capital and then to the Extraordinary Chambers in the Courts of Cambodia (ECCC) in the back of a blacked-out Mercedes.
Nuon Chea was brought into the court via a side entrance to avoid throngs of waiting media and was not permitted to comment before being ushered in for questioning.
"Nuon Chea was brought before the office of the co-investigating judge of the ECCC in execution of the arrest warrant. An initial appearance will be held today during which he will be informed of the charges against him," the court said in an official statement.
A court media official said it should be clear by Wednesday evening if charges will be laid immediately and whether Nuon Chea will be held in custody.
Nuon Chea is the second man to be charged by the 56-million-dolar joint Cambodia-United Nations ECCC, which was set up to try a handful of surviving leaders of the 1975-79 Democratic Kampuchea regime. The ECCC has said more are under investigation, although their names have not been released.
Advocates of a trial have always identified Nuon Chea, now in his eighties and said to be in declining health, as a prime candidate to face justice.
Respected Khmer Rouge historian David Chandler hailed the arrest. "This certainly seems like a good sign. Nuon Chea needs to go on trial for the things he knew about and condoned," Chandler said by email.
Since the death of former leader Pol Pot at his home in 1998 and military commander Ta Mok in hospital last year, Nuon Chea, a Chinese-Cambodian with a degree in political science from a Thai university who was in charge of security under the regime, is arguably the most senior surviving leader.
The first man to be charged by the ECCC was Duch, alias Kang Khek Iev, who commanded the infamous S-21 torture centre. Duch went on record in 1999 as accusing Nuon Chea of being directly responsible for much of the killing during the movement's 1975-79 Democratic Kampuchea regime.
Nuon Chea has denied the charges and has said he does not fear court. He surrendered to the Cambodian government as the final remnants of the movement collapsed in 1998 and has since lived with his wife and family at home.
Up to 2 million Cambodians died of starvation, overwork, torture, disease and execution after the movement emptied the cities and sent most of the population into the fields in a drive to turn the country into an agrarian utopia.
Despite this, Nuon Chea and most other former leaders have lived freely in the community until now.
From his modest wooden house in the former Khmer Rouge stronghold of Pailin, Nuon Chea chatted freely with journalists and was often seen at his local Buddhist pagoda, despite the Khmer Rouge once outlawing religion as well as money and markets and slaughtering Buddhist monks as well as Muslims.
Nuan Chea, with trademark dark glasses (the result of an eye disorder), joined the Cambodian Communist Party early in his life and rapidly climbed the ranks, once being described as "Pol Pot's shadow."