Former Khmer Rouge Air Force Commander and war crimes suspect Sou Met died on June 14 from complications resulting from diabetes, and was cremated three days later in Battambang, a military official at the base where Met had worked said yesterday.
Major General Ek Sam Oun – deputy commander of the Region Five military headquarters where Met had been a deputy, and later an advisor – confirmed Met’s death.
“Sou Met died on June 14 of diabetes, which he had for several years,” Sam Oun said, noting that Met, who was in his seventies, sought treatment in Phnom Penh and Thailand.
Met, along with fellow ECCC Case 003 suspect Meas Muth, was one of the highest ranking members of the Khmer Rouge military and, according to Stephen Heder and Brian Tittemore’s book Seven Candidates for Prosecution, was a standing member of the military’s General Staff Committee, the body responsible for internal military purges. According to his son, Meas Samphors, Khmer Rouge naval commander Muth is still in good health.
Though Met was never officially named as a suspect, his status in Case 003 has been widely known for some time, and was revealed when court introductory submissions bearing his name were leaked in 2011. Court legal communications officer Lars Olsen yesterday had no comment on Met’s death.
Civil party lawyer Lyma Nguyen represents clients whose claims directly pertained to Met’s alleged crimes, including a client whose husband had been pressed into forced labour at the Kampong Chhnang Airport, a project for which Met “would have had direct responsibility”. She said in an email that his death would have an immediate impact on victims.
“Now Sou Met has passed away, any civil parties who have been admitted upon claims relating to his alleged role and responsibilities would no longer have a recourse to moral and collective reparations under the Internal Rules,” Nguyen said, noting the need for a conviction before reparations can be awarded.
However, civil parties’ mere admittance was a “huge acknowledgement” of the pain Met’s alleged crimes caused.
“Unfortunately, the passing away of defendants [in this case, a suspected person, who remains uncharged] is a reality in the context of the Khmer Rouge Tribunal,” Nguyen said.
Documentation Center of Cambodia legal advisor Christopher Dearing also called Met’s death “unfortunate”.
“I don’t think this destroys the legacy of the ECCC – the deaths of suspects – but as the generation that lived during this time period passes way, the opportunities for bringing justice, and for victims seeing justice done, are also passing,” he said.
“Every day the court functions [it] is also on trial itself. As suspects die off and as victims pass, opportunities for the court to really establish itself – not only in Cambodia, but also in international justice – really diminish,” Dearing added.
Both cases are opposed by the government, and the court’s investigative body has been tight-lipped about their progress. That opposition, said Cambodia Institute for Independent Media Studies Director Moeun Chhean Nariddh, could have contributed to the nearly two-week media silence on Met’s death.
“And I think another reason is the government insistence that no more leaders will be put on trial at the Khmer Rouge Tribunal. So the media and the newspapers that are influenced by the government have not picked up this story,” he said, noting that “many, if not most” Khmer-language newspapers were government-affiliated.
Nevertheless, he said, “for Cambodian readers this kind of story is still of great interest and importance”.