Wednesday, 21 May 2008

Former Khmer Rouge government minister appeals her detention by Cambodian tribunal

Ieng Thirith, former minister of social affairs of the communist Khmer Rouge regime, is helped by a police officer at the Extraordinary Chambers in the Courts of Cambodia (ECCC) in the outskirts of Phnom Penh May 21, 2008. Thirith, the wife of former Khmer Rouge foreign minister Ieng Sary, made her first public appearance at the U.N.-backed "Killing Fields" tribunal.REUTERS/Chor Sokunthea (CAMBODIA)

PHNOM PENH, Cambodia (AP) - A former Khmer Rouge government minister facing charges of crimes against humanity before Cambodia's U.N.-assisted genocide tribunal appealed for release from pretrial detention Wednesday .

Ieng Thirith, who was the Khmer Rouge social affairs minister, is among five suspects facing trial for their alleged roles in the regime's brutality. Her hearing was scheduled to last one day.

The tribunal seeks justice for atrocities committed by the ultra-communist group when it ruled Cambodia in 1975-79. Its radical policies caused the deaths of about 1.7 million people from starvation, disease, overwork and execution.

The Cambodian lawyer for the 76-year-old Ieng Thirith has cited a lack of evidence for detaining her and said she suffers from chronic illnesses, «both mental and physical,» that require constant medical treatment.

The suspect is the wife of Ieng Sary, who was the regime's deputy prime minister and foreign minister. He is also detained on charges of crimes against humanity and war crimes.

Ieng Thirith is also the sister-in-law of Khmer Rouge supreme leader Pol Pot, who died in 1998.

In a detention order issued in November, the tribunal's investigating judges said Ieng Thirith is to be tried for supporting Khmer Rouge policies and practices that were «characterized by murder, extermination, imprisonment, persecution on political grounds and other inhuman acts.

She rejected the charges against her as «100 percent false,» according to the detention order.

She has denied responsibility for any criminal acts and said she worked at all times for the benefit of the people, according to an appeal filed in January by her lawyer, Phat Pouv Seang.

Ieng Thirith, who was among the first generation of female Cambodian intellectuals, studied English literature in Paris and worked as a professor after returning to Cambodia in 1957. Three years later, she founded a private English school in the capital, Phnom Penh.

She followed her husband into the jungle to flee government repression in 1965. Their communist movement later became a guerrilla force that toppled the pro-American government in 1975, turning the country in a vast slave-labor camp, anyone deemed bourgeois executed or imprisoned.

The husband and wife, who are held in separate cells, have been allowed to occasionally see each other in the presence of the detention guards, tribunal spokesman Reach Sambath said Tuesday.

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