PHNOM PENH, Sep 21 (Reuters) Khmer Rouge Brother Number Two Nuon Chea proclaimed his innocence when he appeared before Cambodia's UN-backed ''Killing Fields'' tribunal on charges of war crimes and crimes against humanity, the court said today.
According to a summary released two days after his indictment, Pol Pot's right-hand man said he bore no responsibility for the 1.7 million people thought to have died. Many were tortured and executed. Others died of starvation, overwork or disease.
During the Khmer Rouge's four years in charge from 1975 to 1979, real power lay in the hands of the ultra-Maoist movement's Military Committee of which he was not a member, Nuon Chea was quoted as saying.
''We did not have any direct contact with the bases and we were not aware of what was happening there,'' he told the court. He said he had lost 40 relatives during the upheaval.
Nuon Chea's official rank within the Beijing-backed regime was Deputy Secretary of the Communist Party of Kampuchea, as the Khmer Rouge called Cambodia, a role scholars say put him in charge of party and state security.
This included Phnom Penh's notorious S-21 interrogation and torture centre at the Tuol Sleng high school. More than 14,000 prisoners are known to have entered Tuol Sleng's barbed-wire gates.
Around 10 lived to tell the tale.
In a 1999 magazine interview, S-21 chief Duch charged with crimes against humanity in July said Nuon Chea had given him direct orders to kill 300 soldiers in a party purge in 1978.
''He called to meet me and said, 'Don't bother to interrogate them just kill them'. And I did,'' Duch said.
Duch also described the execution of eight captured Westerners.
''Nuon Chea ordered me to burn their bodies with tyres and leave no bones,'' he said.
''NOT CRUEL'' Nuon Chea criticised the focus of historians and the court on atrocities committed during the Khmer Rouge's three years, eight months and 20 days in power.
He wondered why little mention was made of the deaths before 1975, an implicit reference to the US ''secret bombing'' of Cambodia and to anti-communist purges by King Norodom Sihanouk and the US-backed regime that replaced him after a 1970 coup.
Similarly, he criticised the court's lack of jurisdiction to investigate atrocities committed after the Vietnamese invasion that toppled Pol Pot in early 1979.
The octogenarian guerrilla, who was walking with a stick when he was taken to the court, said he was ''not of a cruel nature, having been a Buddhist monk'', the summary said.
''He declared that he wishes to enlighten the Kampuchean people and the whole world concerning the real enemies of Cambodia, specifying that he is a patriot and not a coward and that he does not intend to tarnish the honour of his country by fleeing,'' it concluded.
Nuon Chea has hired Son Arun, a lawyer from his home town of Battambang, despite offers of legal assistance from a number of high-profile international attorneys.
Son Arun, who lost three brothers and a sister under Pol Pot, said Nuon Chea had asked for a Western toilet, some new glasses and a diet of fish and vegetables in his cell in the compound of the 56 million dollars court.
''He told me that he finds Asian squat toilets uncomfortable as he is an old man,'' Son Arun said.
Nuon Chea would also have access to cable television and 24-hour medical care, court officials said.
A medical checkup at Phnom Penh's Calmette Hospital today revealed Nuon Chea was in good health, court spokesman Reach Sambath said. ''He's in good shape. He's fine,'' he said.
REUTERS ARB AS1507