05/12/2011 07:51 GMT | Updated 05/12/2011 11:33 GMT

Khmer Rouge Chief Blames Killing Fields On Vietnamese Army

The Khmer Rouge were not “bad people”, according to regime’s former second in command.

Speaking at the historic war crimes trial in Phnom Penh, Nuon Chea, Pol Pot’s deputy, blamed the mass killing of Cambodians on the Vietnamese army.

Between 1975-1979, the Khmer Rouge murdered an estimated 1.3 million, with some suggesting the figure could be as high as 2.2 million.

Many of the victims were buried in mass graves, which became known as “the killing fields”.

Chea, now 85-years-old, is being tried alongside 80-year-old former regime official Khieu Samphan and Cambodia’s former foreign minister, 86-year-old Leng Sary. All three deny the charges.

The trial started last month, with the defendants accused of crimes against humanity, genocide, religious persecution, homicide and torture.

In a statement to the court, Chea said he didn't want "next generations to misunderstand the history," insisting that the Khmer Rouge was set up to liberate the country from the corrupt rulers.

"I don't want them to misunderstand that the Khmer Rouge are bad people, are criminals. Nothing is true about that," he said.

"These war crimes and crimes against humanity were not committed by the Cambodian people. It was the Vietnamese who killed Cambodians."

Apologists for the regime have a history of blaming the mass graves discovered after the fall of the dictatorship on the country’s neighbour, Vietnam.

Before Chea could finish his testimony, the judge adjourned the court as the defendant was complaining of heart problems.

Earlier in the trial, Samphan called accusations of war crimes against the Khmer Rouge “fairy tales”.

Last year, the UN-backed court successfully prosecuted a former regime prison chief who was convicted of crimes against humanity.