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Future of Case 002 precarious due to defendants' illness

Accused war criminals (from L) Khieu Samphan, Nuon Chea and Ieng Sary are seen taking part in the hearings at the Khmer Rouge tribunal. Photograph: Photograph supplied by the ECCC

Khmer Soviet Friendship Hospital became a de facto Khmer Rouge tribunal detention centre yesterday, at one point hosting all three defendants currently on trial — an episode that underscored how precarious the future of Case 002 may be in light of the co-accused’s ages and health.

Court officials and attorneys confirmed yesterday that not only did Nuon Chea remain at the hospital —where he has been treated for acute bronchitis since collapsing on Sunday — but co-defendants Khieu Samphan and Ieng Sary were admitted as well, with the former reporting difficulty breathing and the latter checking in for a medical examination.

“Khieu Samphan was brought to the Khmer Soviet Friendship Hospital this morning, suffering from shortness of breath,” court legal communications officer Lars Olsen said. “He will remain under observation at the hospital until further notice.”

Although details of his condition were scarce, Khieu Samphan co-counsel Arthur Vercken said his client appeared to have come down with a cold as early as Tuesday and simply needed time to rest.

Since a stint in the hospital in 2008 when he was treated for hypertension, Khieu Samphan — at 81, the youngest of the defendants — has been the healthiest of the co-accused.

“He’s the only one who’s [in the courtroom] every day— every morning, every afternoon,” Vercken said, noting that the long hours in court would be taxing even for a younger man.  

Michael Karnavas, co-counsel for ex-foreign minister Ieng Sary, also said that his client had been taken to the hospital, but not because of a specific ailment.

“I’m told that he went there just for a check-up,” Karnavas, who was unsure when Ieng Sary would return to the detention centre, said.

The perennially ailing Ieng Sary was hospitalised for two months late last year, and has remained largely bedridden since his release.

“He was coughing last week, and seemed kind of in and out of it,” Karnavas said. “But they informed us that unless he goes on oxygen, there’s no need to inform the court.”

Meanwhile, Nuon Chea co-counsel Son Arun said that while his client’s overall health was not good, his bronchitis was reportedly improving.

“The medical report from the hospital that was forwarded by the ECCC said that today [Wednesday] he feels better than yesterday, but I have had no time to visit him,” he said.  “Yesterday, he was really awful.”

Cambodia Justice Initiative program officer Long Panhavuth called the issue of the defendants’ health “troublesome”.

Following a speedy adjournment Monday morning, hearings have remained indefinitely postponed pending Nuon Chea’s release from the hospital.

“As I understand it, the trial chamber is trying to conclude the first segment of the trial in late March,” pointed out Panhavuth.

“So will the trial chamber be able to complete it or not?

“I doubt it.”

To contact the reporter on this story: Stuart White at stuart.white@phnompenhpost.com
 

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