Khmer Rouge leader ‘fit for trial’

KILLING FIELDS::The Khmer Rouge regime wiped out nearly a quarter of Cambodia’s population through starvation, overwork or execution from 1975 to 1979

AFP, PHNOM PENH

Tue, Mar 26, 2013 - Page 6

Pol Pot’s former deputy Nuon Chea is fit to continue with his trial for war crimes and genocide, medical experts told Cambodia’s Khmer Rouge court yesterday following the death of a co-defendant.

“From a physical point of view, I felt he is well enough to continue with the trial,” John Campbell, a geriatrician from New Zealand, told the UN-backed tribunal.

Another expert who examined the physical and mental conditions of the 86-year-old “Brother No. 2,” British forensic psychiatrist Seena Fazel, said his mental health and cognitive function “is currently good.”

Nuon Chea, the most senior surviving leader of the hardline communist regime which oversaw the “Killing Fields” era in the late 1970s, is currently on trial alongside former Khmer Rouge head of state Khieu Samphan, 81.

The death on March 14 of regime co-founder Ieng Sary at the age of 87 intensified fears that the remaining two co-defendants may also die before verdicts can be reached in their trial, which began in June 2011.

Nuon Chea has suffered a number of illnesses, including high blood pressure, acute bronchitis and back pain.

“One of the questions we asked ourselves is would we be surprised if this person was not alive in six months? I have to say in Nuon Chea’s situation, we would not be surprised,” Campbell said. “Life is very unpredictable at age 86, especially with the underlying problems that he has.”

Nuon Chea and Khieu Samphan deny charges including war crimes and genocide from their roles in a regime blamed for the deaths of up to 2 million people.

Ieng Sary’s widow, Ieng Thirith, the regime’s former social affairs minister, was freed in September last year after being deemed unfit for trial due to dementia.

Led by “Brother No. 1” Pol Pot, who died in 1998, the Khmer Rouge wiped out nearly a quarter of Cambodia’s population through starvation, overwork or execution in a bid to create an agrarian utopia from 1975 to 1979.

Fazel said that Nuon Chea “has a clear understanding” of the consequences of a verdict in this trial.

“He explained that if he was found guilty, one possibility was life imprisonment,” he said, adding that Nuon Chea believed that he would not receive capital punishment “because it wasn’t part of the national law.”