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Jailed Khmer Rouge leaders allowed to socialise for first time

Jailed Khmer Rouge leaders allowed to socialise for first time

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3-story-2.jpg

Socialising will be beneficial to the health of the five ageing detainees, their lawyers say, amid fears they could die before facing trial

Photo by: AFP

Khieu Samphan at his bail hearing earlier this year.

FORMER Khmer Rouge leaders detained by Cambodia's war crimes court have been allowed to socialise with each other for the first time since their arrests last year, their lawyers said Thursday.

Khmer Rouge Brother No 2, Nuon Chea, chatted and exercised with former head of state Khieu Samphan and S-21 prison chief Kaing Guek Eav, or Duch, for about 10 minutes Wednesday in the small courtyard of the Khmer Rouge tribunal's detention facility.

"They just smiled and asked each other, ‘How are you? How is you're health?' And they exercised and breathed in fresh air together for a short time," Sa Sovan, the co-lawyer for Khieu Samphan, told the Post.  "I think that their health will be better now that they can meet and talk about things."

The UN-backed court's pre-trial chamber ruled earlier this month that suspects would be allowed to meet each other after Nuon Chea's lawyers challenged the provisions of his detention.  

Socialising ‘good for health'

Sa Sovan said that his client and the other four charged persons are "not prisoners, but suspects", and have the right to meet with other people.

He said that the decision by the pretrial chamber to allow suspects to meet and talk with each other was a positive step for the rights of the detainees, most of whom are in their 70s and 80s.

"The meeting between my client and other suspects on Wednesday will reduce their stress and can help prevent mental illness," he said.

"If they are allowed to meet and talk with their families and friends, they will be even happier," he said.

"Many people now want to see my client because they say that he is a gentle person."

But Kar Savuth, the co-lawyer for Duch, said that he visited his client Thursday morning and saw that his health had not improved following the meeting.

"I saw that his face was sad, and he said he misses his family," he said.

At least two of the suspects - Nuon Chea and Ieng Sary - have been repeatedly hospitalised, although all are frail and their state of ill health has raised fears that they could die before facing justice.

 Court spokesman Reach Sambath said meetings between the suspects would not impact the investigation into their alleged roles in the 1975-79 regime.

"Allowing them to meet will not impact the investigative process," he said.

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