Nuon Chea (Khmer: នួន ជា; born Lau Kim Korn, 7 July 1926), also known as Long Bunruot (Khmer: ឡុង ប៊ុនរត្ន) or Rungloet Laodi (Thai: รุ่งเลิศ เหล่าดี), is a Cambodian former communist politician who was the chief ideologist of the Khmer Rouge. He also served as the Prime Minister of Democratic Kampuchea (31st Prime Minister of Cambodia).
He was commonly known as "Brother Number Two" (Khmer: បងធំទី២), as he was second-in-command to Khmer Rouge leader Pol Pot, General Secretary of the Party, during the Cambodian Genocide of 1975–1979. On 7 August 2014, Nuon Chea received a life sentence for crimes against humanity, alongside another top-tier Khmer Rouge leader, Khieu Samphan. At age 91, Nuon Chea is the oldest living former Prime Minister and the oldest of the last surviving Khmer Rouge leaders.
Nuon Chea was born as Lau Kim Lorn at Voat Kor, Battambang in 1926. Nuon's father, Lao Liv, worked as a trader as well as a corn farmer, while his mother, Dos Peanh, was a tailor. An interview by a Japanese researcher in 2003 with Nuon Chea quoted that Liv was Chinese, while Peanh was the daughter of a Chinese immigrant from Shantou and his Khmer wife. In 2011, however, Chea told the Khmer Rouge Tribunal that he was only a quarter Chinese through his half-Chinese father. As a child, Nuon Chea was raised in both Chinese and Khmer customs. The family prayed at a Theravada Buddhist temple, but observed Chinese religious customs during the Lunar New Year and Qingming festival. Nuon Chea started school at seven, and was educated in Thai, French and Khmer.
In the 1940s, Nuon Chea studied at Thammasat University in Bangkok and worked part-time for the Thai Ministry of Foreign Affairs. He began his political activities in the Communist Party of Siam in Bangkok. He was elected Deputy General Secretary of the Workers Party of Kampuchea (later renamed as the Communist Party of Kampuchea) in September 1960. In Democratic Kampuchea, he was generally known as "Brother Number Two." Unlike most of the leaders of Khmer Rouge, Chea did not study in Paris.
As documented in the Soviet archives, Nuon Chea played a major role in negotiating the North Vietnamese invasion of Cambodia in 1970, with the intent of forcing the collapse of Lon Nol's government: "In April–May 1970, many North Vietnamese forces entered Cambodia in response to the call for help addressed to Vietnam not by Pol Pot, but by his deputy Nuon Chea. Nguyen Co Thach recalls: "Nuon Chea has asked for help and we have liberated five provinces of Cambodia in ten days." In 1970, in fact, Vietnamese forces occupied almost a quarter of the territory of Cambodia, and the zone of communist control grew several times, as power in the so-called liberated regions was given to the CPK [Khmer Rouge]. At that time relations between Pol Pot and the North Vietnamese leaders were especially warm." The North Vietnamese trusted Nuon Chea more than Pol Pot or Ieng Sary, although he "consistently and consciously deceived the Vietnamese principals concerning the real plans of the Khmer leadership." As a result, "Hanoi did not undertake any action to change the power pattern within the top ranks of the Communist Party to their own benefit."
As the recently proclaimed state legislature, the Kampuchean People's Representative Assembly held its first plenary session during 11–13 April 1976, Chea was elected President of its Standing Committee. He briefly held office as acting Prime minister when Pol Pot resigned for one month, citing health reasons. According to Dmitry Mosyakov, "In October 1978, Hanoi still believed that "there were two prominent party figures in Phnom Penh who sympathized with Vietnam—Nuon Chea and the former first secretary of the Eastern Zone, So Phim."....Vietnamese hopes that these figures would head an uprising against Pol Pot turned out to be groundless: So Phim perished during the revolt in June 1978, while Nuon Chea, as it is known, turned out to be one of the most devoted followers of Pol Pot—he did not defect to the Vietnamese side....It is difficult to understand why until the end of 1978 it was believed in Hanoi that Nuon Chea was "their man" in spite of the fact that all previous experience should have proved quite the contrary. Was Hanoi unaware of his permanent siding with Pol Pot, his demands that "the Vietnamese minority should not be allowed to reside in Kampuchea", his extreme cruelty, as well as of the fact that, "in comparison with Nuon Chea, people considered Pol Pot a paragon of kindness"?" Nuon Chea was forced to abandon his position as President of the Assembly, along with all others as the Vietnamese captured Phnom Penh in January 1979.
In December 1998 Chea surrendered as part of the last remnants of Khmer Rouge resistance which was based in Pailin near the Thailand border. The government under Prime Minister Hun Sen, himself a former member of the Khmer Rouge, agreed to forsake attempts to prosecute Chea, a decision that was condemned by the international community.
On 19 September 2007, Chea was arrested at his home in Pailin and flown to the Khmer Rouge Tribunal in Phnom Penh, which charged him with war crimes and crimes against humanity. He has since been held in detention. In February 2008, Chea told the court that his case should be handled according to international standards. He argued that the court should delay proceedings because his Dutch lawyer, Michiel Pestman, had not yet arrived. In May 2013, Chea told the court and the victims' families, "I feel remorseful for the crimes that were committed intentionally or unintentionally, whether or not I had known about it or not known about it." On 7 August 2014, the court convicted Chea of crimes against humanity and sentenced him to imprisonment for the remainder of his life. His lawyer immediately announced that Chea would appeal his conviction. Chea faces a separate trial for the crime of genocide in the same court.