Ek Choeun, the infamous, one-legged former Khmer Rouge military chief known as "Ta Mok," passed into a coma on July 12 at Phnom Penh's Preah Ketokmealea Hospital and is likely to die before standing trial in the impending Khmer Rouge Trial, his lawyer said on July 13.
"He [Ta Mok] became unconscious last night," lawyer Benson Samay told reporters. "In fact, he was in a coma. He could not stand or sit, could not eat or drink and could not speak. He is now under special care of the doctors. He could die tonight, tomorrow or next week."
At press time Ta Mok's physical condition was unknown, but Samay said he was unconscious as late as the afternoon of July 13. Samay has issued dire assessments about Ta Mok's health for years. In 2001 he told the Post "I think he'll die before any trial."
After nearly five decades of guerrilla warfare, Ta Mok was captured in 1999. He has been imprisoned in Phnom Penh's Military Prison with no fornal charge for eight years. Samay claims he has not received proper medical or psychological care.
"We regret to hear about the condition of Ta Mok's health; he is the key person if he is indicted by the ECCC," said Reach Sambath, spokesman for the the Extraordinary Chambers in the Courts of Cambodia. "We need him to recover."
Ta Mok, a former monk and one-time Pali language instructor, is said to have ordered large-scale massacres in Khmer Rouge zones under his jurisdiction in 1973. In March 1974, Ta Mok's troops sacked the ancient capital of Oudong, destroying the city and slaughtering the local population. Ta Mok, born in Tram Kak district of Takeo province, pursued and captured Brother Number 1 Pol Pot as he attempted to flee into Thailand, and presided over the subsequent "people's tribunal" to purge and sentence Pol Pot on July 25, 1997.
He was hospitalized two weeks ago for a range of ailments including high blood pressure, tuberculosis and respiratory problems.
Samay quoted Ta Mok as saying that the international media has blamed him for all the atrocities of the Khmer Rouge regime, but have failed to investigate the roles of Western governments that initially supported the KR.
"Those same Western countries are now supporting the trial," Samay quoted his client as saying. "He told me on July 10 that he wanted to tell the world that he never killed anyone."
Samay has previously said that his defense team would base Ta Mok's defense on alleged influence of foreign powers in creating the genocide. He claimed in 2001 that he had accumulated much potentially exonerating evidence for his client as well as a list of "at least 10,000" defense witnesses. He said at the time he expected the trial to last for three to four years.
Since 1999, Mok has been confined in the same prison as Duch, the former S-21 torture center chief. All other former KR leaders remain at liberty.
Kar Savuth, Duch's lawyer told the Post on July 13 that he has not yet received an indictment paper from the ECCC.
"My client is not afraid of the trial," said Savuth. "I am a lawyer, I have to defend my client. I don't care about the tribunal, everything will cleared up when the trial starts."
On July 3, 17 Cambodian and eight international judges and prosecutors were sworn in to sit in the Extraordinary Chambers in the Courts of Cambodia (ECCC) to try those former Khmer Rouge leaders responsible for the crimes of Democratic Kampuchea between the 1975 and 1979.
The Cambodian and international co-prosecutors, Chea Leang and Robert Petit, began work on July 10, but would not comment on which, or how many, former leaders of the KR would face indictment.
"We will begin our work with a blank slate and build our cases based on the information we discover over the next weeks and months," Petit said at a press conference on July 7. "Facts must be researched, double and triple checked, evidence must be examined, interviews conducted and at each step of the investigative phase, our office must ensure that international standards have been met."
Sambath estimated that at least five to 10 former KR leaders would face trial.
"It's too early for [the co-prosecutors] to charge anyone; we must have enough evidence and no one has been identified as the suspects or the witnesses," Sambath said. "Both prosecutors are committed to their work; they will proceed into the legal process as quickly as possible."
Sok An, Deputy Prime Minister and chairman of the Royal Government Task Force, said in a speech on July 3 that the objective of the government is to provide justice for the victims and for the entire Cambodian people.
Sok Sam Oeun, Chairman of the Cambodian Human Rights Action Committee (CHRAC) said the judicial officers of the ECCC invited civil society leaders for a meeting and have pledged to forge close cooperation with one another.
"The matter of the KR is not normal; the evidence of the crimes must be proof and the evidence of the trouble-maker must be proof," Sam Oeun said. "But many former KR leaders use the alias."
The ECCC established two committees comprising both national and international judges, according to the statement from the judicial officers of the ECCC issued on July 7.
The best known surviving former KR leaders:
Noun Chea, deputy secretary of the central committee and member of the standing committee of the Communist Party of Kampuchea
Ieng Sary, minister of foreign affair and central and standing committee member
Khieu Samphan, democratick Kampuchea state presidium chair
Ta Mok, zone secretary and central committee member
Duch, chief of the Democratic Kampuchea's prison interrogation centre S-21.