Sat, Jul 15, 2006 - Page 5 News List

Khmer Rouge `butcher' in coma, Cambodian family requests visit


Family members sought permission yesterday to visit ex-Khmer Rouge army chief Ta Mok, who is awaiting trial for crimes against humanity and reportedly close to death in a military hospital, a relative said.

Known as the "butcher" for his ruthlessness during the Khmer Rouge regime, Ta Mok was hospitalized two weeks ago with high blood pressure, tuberculosis and respiratory ailments, his lawyer, Benson Samay said on Thursday.

He said Ta Mok had slipped into a coma and could die any day.

General Ly Sovann, the chief of the military hospital, refused to comment yesterday on Ta Mok's health status.

Ta Mok, whose real name is Ung Choeun, is one of two former Khmer Rouge senior officials in detention at a military prison awaiting trial for atrocities committed during the radical communist movement's rule from 1975 to 1979.

The military prosecutor's office must approve all visitors.

Ven Dara, a niece of Ta Mok, said she and three other relatives arrived yesterday in the capital Phnom Penh from Pailin, a former Khmer Rouge stronghold in northwestern Cambodia.

One of Ta Mok's five daughters was expected to arrive later yesterday from a remote area of northwestern Cambodia, but his four other children are too poor to make the trip, Ven Dara said.

Earlier this month, judges and prosecutors were sworn in to begin long-awaited UN-backed trials of former Khmer Rouge leaders on charges of genocide and crimes against humanity. The trials are expected to begin in 2007.

Many fear the aging Khmer Rouge leaders will die before being brought to trial.

"I am calling for help to save his life, and we can think about his trial later," Ven Dara told reporters.

Pol Pot, the Khmer Rouge leader, died in 1998, but several of his top lieutenants still live freely in Cambodia.

The group's extremist policies led to the deaths of an estimated 1.7 million people through starvation, overwork and execution.

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