Thiounn Thioeun, a Paris-educated intellectual and the health minister for the radical Khmer Rouge regime of the 1970s, has died in the Cambodian capital at age 86, family members said Tuesday.
He was expected to be a witness in the long-awaited U.N.-assisted Cambodian tribunal of surviving Khmer Rouge leaders, human rights activists and scholars said.
Thiounn Thioeun died in central Phnom Penh in Calmette Hospital, according to Ms. Thiounn Maly, who is believed to be his daughter. She says her father was a poor man after the Khmer Rouge regime fell in 1979 and was financially supported by his relatives in France.
Thiounn Thioeun is survived by three daughters who are living in Phnom Penh.
The director of the Documentation Center of Cambodia, Youk Chhang, regrets the death of Thiounn Thioeun who he considers as a vital witness in the Khmer Rouge tribunal.
Youk Chhang says because Thiounn Thioeun was the health minister, he could have some answers to the Khmer Rouge’s decisions during those years. He said some valuable evidence is buried forever.
Kek Galabru, founder of the Cambodian human rights group, Licadho, said she is concerned that both witnesses and former Khmer Rouge leaders are dying off before the start of the trial. She urges Cambodian and U.N. officials to move trial proceedings quicker.
Judges and prosecutors were recently formally appointed; prosecutors are expected to officially begin work this summer and conduct an 18-month probe.
Khmer Rouge Tribunal spokesman Reach Sambath says the tribunal understands the problem very well and is working hard to get started.