Pol Pot's former deputy Nuon Chea is fit to continue with his trial for war crimes and genocide, doctors told Cambodia's Khmer Rouge court yesterday following the death of a co-defendant.
"From a physical point of view, I felt he is well enough to continue with the trial," Professor John Campbell, a geriatrician from New Zealand, told the UN-backed tribunal.
Another expert who examined the physical and mental condition of the 86-year-old "Brother Number Two", British forensic psychiatrist Seena Fazel, said his mental health and cognitive function "is currently good".
Nuon Chea, the most senior surviving leader of the regime that oversaw the "Killing Fields" era in the late 1970s, is on trial alongside former Khmer Rouge head of state Khieu Samphan, 81.
The death on March 14 of regime co-founder Ieng Sary at the age of 87 intensified fears that the remaining two elderly co-defendants may also die before verdicts can be reached in their trial, which began in June 2011.
Nuon Chea has also suffered a number of illnesses, including high blood pressure, acute bronchitis and back pain.
"One of the questions we asked ourselves is would we be surprised if this person was not alive in six months? I have to say in Nuon Chea's situation, we would not be surprised," Campbell said.
"Life is very unpredictable at age 86, especially with the underlying problems that he has."
Nuon Chea and Khieu Samphan deny charges from their roles in a regime blamed for the deaths of two million people.
Ieng Sary's widow, Ieng Thirith, the regime's former social affairs minister, was freed in September after being deemed unfit for trial owing to dementia.
The Khmer Rouge wiped out nearly a quarter of Cambodia's population through starvation and execution in trying to create an agrarian utopia in 1975-79.