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Planning Under Way for Trials of Aging Khmer Rouge

Nuon Chea, 85, has high blood pressure and problems with his eyes.
Nuon Chea, 85, has high blood pressure and problems with his eyes.

Defense lawyers for accused Khmer Rouge leaders said Tuesday they want the court to consider the health problems of their aging clients, as officials met to begin planning for an upcoming trial.

The UN-backed tribunal is heading into its second trial of Khmer Rouge leaders, in what promises to be a drawn-out process, even as the defendants continue to report health concerns.

Observers have long worried that a lengthy trial process would mean defendants Nuon Chea, 85; Khieu Samphan, 79; Ieng Sary, 85; and Ieng Thirith, 69; would not see their day in court.

“The accused persons are all old and often sick,” Son Arun, a defense lawyer for Nuon Chea, told VOA Khmer. “So I asked [court officials], when they are sick, how can the court solve the problem?”

Nuon Chea has high blood pressure and problems with his eyes. Ieng Sary has heart trouble, and his wife, Ieng Thirith, suffers from mental health problems. Khieu Samphan, the healthiest among them, has fallen ill from time to time while in the custody of the tribunal.

Defense lawyers say they need specialist doctors to evaluate the condition of the accused before a hearing is fully set in motion.

“The hearing will be scheduled once their health conditions are determined,” said Phat Peou Seang, an attorney for Ieng Thirith.

Tuesday’s trial management meetings also focused on internal rules of the court, especially for recognizing foreign lawyers a defense motion challenging the indictment stage of the case—including whether an indictment of Ieng Sary constitutes the second time he has been charged with the same crime, following a State of Cambodia trial in 1979.

Micheal Pestman, an attorney for Ieng Sary, said the health question was also discussed and that he hoped the problem will be solved properly.

Khieu Samphan lawyer Sar Savan said he had not claimed anything related to the health of his client, but he insisted the court apply a balance of common law and civil law.

Tribunal spokesman Reach Sambath declined to provide further details on the meetings.