PHNOM PENH // A Khmer Rouge leader accused a war crimes tribunal of wanting his "head on the block", and insisted he had no real authority during the regime's brutal rule of Cambodia in the 1970s.
Khieu Samphan, the former head of state, said he was a figurehead leader who never joined key policy meetings in the radical communist government, which is accused of orchestrating the country's "killing fields" and causing the deaths of an estimated 1.7 million Cambodians.
In his rebuttal of prosecutors' opening remarks, Khieu Samphan accused the UN-backed tribunal of exaggerating the Khmer Rouge's wrongdoing with "fairy tales".
However, he also sought to justify the regime's rule in a historical context - as the highest surviving leader Nuon Chea did during comments to the panel on Tuesday - saying the movement sought to protect the country from French colonialists, the US and Vietnam.
"Today you may see it as a joke. However, I shall remind you that at that time, communism was the one movement that gave hope to millions of youth around the world. What I really wanted at that time, was the best possible experience for my country, for Cambodia," Khieu Samphan said.
The tribunal is seeking justice on behalf of an estimated quarter of Cambodia's population to have died from executions, starvation, disease and overwork when the Khmer Rouge held power in 1975-79.