The UN-backed genocide tribunal in Cambodia arrested the former Khmer Rouge head of state today following his release from a hospital, officials said.
Khieu Samphan, 76, was the fifth senior Khmer Rouge official to be detained by the long-delayed tribunal ahead of trials that are expected to begin next year.
Police escorted Khieu Samphan from hospital in the capital Phnom Penh that he checked into last Wednesday after suffering a stroke. They held his arms for support and led him to a police car that sped away in a convoy of a half dozen police vehicles before a tribunal spokesman confirmed his arrest.
“Khieu Samphan, the former head of state of Democratic Kampuchea, was arrested,” said tribunal spokesman Reach Sambath, referring to the official name of Cambodia during the Khmer Rouge regime.
It was not immediately clear what charges Khieu Samphan will face. He was expected to appear before investigating judges later in the day, the spokesman said.
Khieu Samphan’s wife So Socheat said her husband has chosen French lawyer Jacques Verges, whose previous clients include terrorists and a former Nazi, to represent him at the tribunal. His defence team is also expected to include a Cambodian lawyer.
Khieu Samphan’s arrest by the UN-backed tribunal had been widely expected. The tribunal already has arrested four of his colleagues to face trial for atrocities during the regime’s 1975-79 rule that led to the deaths of an estimated 1.7 million people.
A week ago, authorities arrested Ieng Sary, the Khmer Rouge’s ex-foreign minister, and his wife Ieng Thirith, its social affairs minister. Both were charged with crimes against humanity; Ieng Sary was also charged with war crimes. The genocide tribunal formally placed them in provisional detention for up to a year.
Two other suspects – former Khmer Rouge ideologist Nuon Chea and Kaing Guek Eav, also known as Duch, who headed the group’s S-21 torture centre – were detained earlier this year on charges of war crimes and crimes against humanity.
The arrests of the Khmer Rouge suspects come almost three decades after the group fell from power, with many fearing the ageing suspects might die before they ever see a courtroom.
The UN-assisted tribunal was created last year after seven years of contentious negotiations between the United Nations and Cambodia.