Ieng Thirith, accused of Khmer war crimes, freed on health grounds

PUBLISHED : Monday, 17 September, 2012, 12:00am
UPDATED : Monday, 17 September, 2012, 3:42am


The former "First Lady" of Cambodia's Khmer Rouge regime was freed yesterday, after the country's war crimes tribunal had ruled she was unfit to stand trial.

Ieng Thirith, 80, who experts say has Alzheimer's disease, was driven in a convoy with police and officials from the purpose-built detention facility at the Phnom Penh court where she has been held since 2007.

"She was picked up by her children," said court spokesman Neth Pheaktra, without giving details of where the genocide suspect would be taken.

The release of the former social affairs minister, one of only a handful of people brought before a court over atrocities during the Khmer Rouge era, will come as a bitter blow to many who survived the 1975 to '79 regime, blamed for the deaths of up to 2 million people.

Cambodia's UN-backed tribunal ordered her release on Thursday, but the move was delayed after prosecutors requested tighter conditions.

The court's highest appeal body said it agreed to impose extra provisional conditions, including she register her address and relinquish her passport and other travel documents.

It will make a final decision on conditions at a later date.

Judges said Ieng Thirith would be incapable of remembering any rules, though they stipulated she should not interfere in the case in any way and should remain in Cambodia.

Charges of war crimes, genocide and crimes against humanity against Ieng Thirith, who was the sister-in-law of the late regime leader Pol Pot, have not been withdrawn.

Youk Chhang, a leading researcher on the Khmer Rouge who lost many relatives during the "Killing Fields" era, said the decision to free Ieng Thirith would be difficult for victims to accept. But he said it represented "defiant compassion" that contrasted to the regime's brutality.

Three other senior Khmer leaders, including Ieng Thirith's husband Ieng Sary, are on trial accused of the same atrocities.

The court has so far jailed just one man, former Khmer prison chief Kaing Guek Eav, known as Duch, giving him a life sentence.