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Khmer Rouge accused’s release appealed

2011-11-18 18:00

Phnom Penh - Prosecutors at Cambodia's Khmer Rouge genocide tribunal on Friday appealed against a decision to free the regime's former "First Lady" after she was deemed unfit for trial for having dementia.

Judges on Thursday ordered Ieng Thirith, the only female leader charged by the UN-backed court, to be released after medical experts said she suffers from memory loss and most likely has Alzheimer's disease.

"We have appealed her immediate release," international co-prosecutor Andrew Cayley told AFP.

The ruling on the 79-year-old's fitness came just days before the tribunal was to hear opening statements in her long-awaited trial alongside three co-accused.

War crimes, genocide charges

Judges said the former social affairs minister would now not have to answer to charges of war crimes, genocide and crimes against humanity next week over the deaths of up to two million people during the movement's 1975-1979 reign.

Ieng Thirith will remain locked up while the Supreme Court Chamber ponders the appeal.

She has been held along with her husband and former foreign affairs minister Ieng Sary and two other top regime leaders - "Brother Number Two" Nuon Chea and ex-head of state Khieu Samphan - at a purpose-built detention centre since 2007. All face and deny the same charges.

Questions have long been raised over the mental state of the regime's "First Lady", who famously lost her cool during a 2009 court appearance, telling her accusers they would be "cursed to the seventh circle of hell".

Trial chamber judges said in a statement on Thursday that the "continued detention of an accused who lacks capacity to understand proceedings against her... would not serve the interests of justice."

But while they agreed about her mental health affliction, they were split about what to do with Ieng Thirith after staying the proceedings against her, their decision showed.

Victim unhappy


Cambodian judges suggested she should be hospitalised for six months before re-assessing her fitness, while international judges said there was no legal basis to keep her locked up. In the absence of an agreement, international law prevailed.

In their appeal document, prosecutors said judges had failed to exhaust all possible options to improve the suspect's condition.

"The decision should be amended to require the accused to remain in detention and undergo medical and other remedial treatment, subject to a review in six months," it read.

Freeing Ieng Thirith would likely cause a stir in Cambodia, where many victims are still haunted by the horrors of the regime.

"As a victim... I am not happy, I cannot accept the release order," said Bou Meng, 70, one of the few people to survive a notorious torture prison in the Cambodian capital.

¼ of population wiped out


Led by "Brother Number One" Pol Pot, who died in 1998, the Khmer Rouge wiped out nearly a quarter of the Cambodian population through starvation, overwork and execution in a bid to create an agrarian utopia.

As social affairs minister, Paris-educated Ieng Thirith, who was also Pol Pot's sister-in-law, is believed to have been involved in some of the hard line communist movement's most drastic policies.

In the court's historic first trial, former prison chief Kaing Guek Eav was sentenced to 30 years in jail last year for overseeing the deaths of some 15 000 people. His case is under appeal with a ruling expected on February 3.

Amid fears that not all of the elderly accused in the long-awaited second trial will live to see a verdict, the court last month divided their complex case into a series of smaller trials to speed up proceedings.