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Former Khmer Rouge Minister Appeals for Release

A former Khmer Rouge government minister, facing charges of crimes against humanity before Cambodia's UN-assisted genocide tribunal, appealed for release from pre-trial detention in Phnom Penh on Wednesday May 21, 2008.

Ieng Thirith, who was the Khmer Rouge social affairs minister, is among five suspects facing trial for their alleged roles in the regime's brutality.

The Cambodian lawyer for the 76-year-old Ieng Thirith has cited a lack of evidence for detaining her and said she suffers from chronic illnesses, "both mental and physical," that require constant medical treatment.

The suspect is the wife of Ieng Sary, who was the regime's deputy prime minister and foreign minister. He is also detained on charges of crimes against humanity and war crimes.

Ieng Thirith is also the sister-in-law of Khmer Rouge supreme leader Pol Pot, who died in 1998.

In a detention order issued in November, the tribunal's investigating judges said Ieng Thirith was to be tried for supporting Khmer Rouge policies and practices that were "characterised by murder, extermination, imprisonment, persecution on political grounds and other inhuman acts".

She rejected the charges against her as "100 percent false," according to the detention order.

Ieng Thirith, who was among the first generation of female Cambodian intellectuals, studied English literature in Paris and worked as a professor after returning to Cambodia in 1957. Three years later she founded a private English school in the capital, Phnom Penh.

She followed her husband into the jungle to flee government repression in 1965. Their communist movement later became a guerrilla force that toppled the pro-American government in 1975, turning the country into a vast slave-labour camp in which anyone deemed bourgeois was executed or imprisoned.

The husband and wife, who are held in separate cells, have been allowed to occasionally see each other in the presence of detention guards.

Information for this report was provided by APTN.