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Khmer Rouge Prison Survivor and Activist in a Coma

In this photo taken July 12, 2007, Khmer Rouge death camp survivor Vann Nath describes his painting during an exhibition in Phnom Penh.

Vann Nath, a painter who survived imprisonment at a notorious Khmer Rouge torture center and was a dogged activist for the rights of victims at the UN-backed tribunal, fell into a coma Friday night, family members and health officials said.

Vann Nath, who is 66, remains at La Sante Hemodialysis Center in Phnom Penh, where family members are watching over his him. He suffered an apparent heart attack Friday night.

His illness comes as the court is preparing for its most complicated trial to date, of four senior Khmer Rouge leaders currently in detention, and it underscores the concerns of many who fear that the leaders—and their victims—have grown old as the court procedures slowly progress.

Tan Sokhun, a doctor and head of the technical section of La Sante said there was little hope of recovery.

On Vann Nath’s website, Cambodian filmmaker Rithy Pann said Vann Nath was “fighting and his family [is] with him but the doctors have little hope regarding his chance to come to back to us.”

Vann Nath’s condition also comes as the tribunal’s Supreme Court Chamber is considering the verdict for Duch, the head of Tuol Sleng prison, where Vann Nath was kept a prisoner and where more than 12,000 people were tortured and sent to their deaths.

Van Nath had been a leading activist seeking greater participation at court for victims, many of whom were upset with the initial sentencing of Duch, who was given a commuted sentence of 19 years for his role as chief of Tuol Sleng.

Tribunal spokesman Huy Vannak said he had given $500 to Vann Nath’s family to help with expenses. He said he hoped Vann Nath would recover, because he was a “key person” helping victims at the court.