Khmer Rouge minister claims ill health in trial

THE former Khmer Rouge foreign minister is so ill that staying in jail could kill him, his lawyers said yesterday as they argued for his release from detention at Cambodia’s UN genocide court.

Ieng Sary, 82, is one of five top regime cadres charged in connection with the Khmer Rouge’s bloody rule over Cambodia from 1975-79, when two million people died from starvation, overwork or execution.

The joint Cambodia-UN tribunal was established two years ago, after nearly a decade of haggling, to bring to justice those responsible for one of the 20th century’s worst atrocities.

Like most of the defendants, Sary appears frail. He has been hospitalised several times for a heart condition since he and his wife Thirith were arrested in November.

On the fourth and final day of his pre-trial hearing on Thursday, he complained about medical care in the court’s detention facility, saying staff do not respond immediately when he gets an irregular heartbeat.

“The main issue is that I don’t have people close enough to me to give immediate assistance,” he said. “I know that the staff at the detention facility have helped me a lot, but I would like people closer to me to help me better.”

His lawyers told the panel of five judges that his health was so poor he should be released from jail and placed under house arrest instead.

The prosecution countered that Sary was under constant supervision by doctors and nurses, with no sign that he is near death.

“I would go so far as to say the medical care Mr Ieng Sary is getting is probably higher than anywhere else in Cambodia,” said prosecutor William Smith.

The four other defendants at the tribunal are mostly in their 70s and 80s, and critics worry they could die before trials are completed.

Khmer Rouge leader Pol Pot died in 1998.

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