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Foreign Minister Adds Voice to Concern Over Aging Khmer Rouge Leaders

Former Khmer Rouge leaders Khieu Samphan, left, and Nuon Chea, right, look on during the funeral for Khieu Ponnary, the first wife of Khmer Rouge leader Pol Pot, file photo.
PHNOM PENH & WASHINGTON DC - A top Cambodian official says he is worried that two Khmer Rouge leaders are getting old and could die before they see the end of their trial at the UN-backed tribunal.

Foreign Minister Hor Namhong told Australia’s ambassador on Tuesday that the age of two defendants—Nuon Chea and Khieu Samphan—was of growing concern, following the death this month of Ieng Sary, a spokesman said. The three were on trial for atrocity crimes, including genocide, for their leadership of the regime.

“The minister has expressed his concern that in the future the tribunal will have no defendants,” a spokesman for the Foreign Affairs Ministry, Koy Kuong, said. “The minister wants to push in whatever way to have an expedited proceeding so that the court won’t end without any defendants on trial.”

Tribunal officials say they are seeking ways to move the trial forward while keeping the integrity of the court.

“The court is of course aware that the defendants are of advanced ages and that it is necessary to ensure that we have expedited proceedings,” spokesman Lars Olsen said. “At the same time we cannot cut corners just because defendants are old people, because they still have the same rights as any other defendants in criminal trials, regardless of the fact that they are old.”

Neth Pheaktra, a spokesman for the Cambodian side of the hybrid court, told VOA Khmer that the tribunal is moving toward continuing the trial of Nuon Chea, the Khmer Rouge’s chief ideologue, and Khieu Samphan, its head of state, following a hearing Monday over Nuon Chea’s health.

The tribunal is currently focused on the time period following the Khmer Rouge’s takeover of Phnom Penh, in April 1975. Victims groups say that period only provides a historical basis for later crimes.

In a joint statement, the Applied Social Research Institute of Cambodia, the Cambodian Human Rights Action Committee and Ksaem Ksan said charges like genocide in some cases and forced marriage should be more closely considered, in order for the court to issue “a meaningful ruling” before the defendants die “and the opportunity for justice is closed.”