Wednesday, 25 February 2009

Khmer Rouge "First Lady" Says Too Weak For Plea

The former Khmer Rouge "First Lady" Ieng Thirith (centre) has launched an angry tirade at Cambodia's UN-backed genocide tribunal. Ieng Thirith told her accusers they would be "cursed to the seventh circle of hell".(AFP/Pool/Heng Sinith)

PHNOM PENH (AFP)--The former Khmer Rouge "First Lady" said she was too frail to make a plea as she appeared before Cambodia's U.N.-backed genocide court Tuesday after her husband had been rushed to hospital.

Ieng Thirith, 76, facing trial for crimes against humanity, told the court that defense lawyers would speak on her behalf during her appeal against detention, saying: "I am too weak."

As the regime's former social affairs minister, she is one of five top cadres in the sights of the U.N. war crimes tribunal over atrocities committed during the communist Khmer Rouge's 1975 to 1979 rule.

The health of the aging suspects is an ongoing concern. Ieng Thirith's husband, former Khmer Rouge foreign minister Ieng Sary, was hospitalized Monday evening for blood in his urine, court spokesman Reach Sambath said.

It was the ninth time Ieng Sary, 83, has been rushed to hospital since the pair were detained by the court in November 2007, the spokesman said.

In documents read to the court Tuesday, investigating judges argued it was necessary to keep Ieng Thirith in jail to protect her security, preserve public order and ensure she didn't flee from trial.

But defense lawyer Phat Pouv Seang demanded Ieng Thirith's immediate release, saying the investigating judges failed to provide adequate evidence to hold her.

After years of wrangling between the Cambodian government and the U.N., the court was created in 2006 to try leading members of the Khmer Rouge regime.

The long-awaited first trial started last week when the regime's notorious prison chief, 66-year-old Kaing Guek Eav, better known by the alias Duch, went before the court.

Up to two million people were executed or died of starvation, disease and overwork as the Khmer Rouge emptied cities and forced the population to work on collective farms in its bid to create a communist utopia.

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