Khmer Rouge leader may walk free

PHNOM PENH, Cambodia, Dec. 5 (UPI) -- Cambodia's Supreme Court says it will decide whether an accused leader of the Khmer Rouge genocide, a former sister-in-law of Pol Pot, can walk free.

Ieng Thirith, 79, was charged by a U.N.-backed Phnom Penh tribunal with genocide, homicide, crimes against humanity and other crimes the indictment alleges she committed in her role in the "planning, direction, coordination and ordering of widespread purges," The New York Times reported.


As minister for social affairs under the Pol Pot Maoist regime Thirith is alleged to have been the most powerful woman in the Khmer Rouge government, at whose hands 1.7 million people died from 1975 to 1979 through either execution, torture, forced labor, starvation or disease.

Thirith and other Khmer Rouge leaders' intent in abolishing schools, religion and currency was to create an agrarian utopia, the Times said.

Thirith was arrested in November 2007 at her Phnom Penh villa where she lived with her husband, Ieng Sary, 86, also a former Khmer Rouge foreign minister who is standing trial for his alleged crimes.

The court found Thirith unfit to stand trial Nov. 17 due to dementia but international and Cambodian judges couldn't agree how her mental state could, would or should affect her detention at the tribunal's detention center where she was being held, The Phnom Penh Post reported Monday.


The Supreme Court Chamber, the Khmer Rouge tribunal's highest appeal body, had 15 days to appeal for Thirith's release.

"The 15 days is due to elapse this week," a legal affairs spokesman for the tribunal, Lars Olsen, said, indicating the decision could come Monday or Tuesday. "But if there are exceptional circumstances, the Supreme Court Chamber can take longer to issue a decision."

If Thirith is released, it will be seen as a setback for the tribunal which, the Times said, has been tainted by accusations of Cambodian political interference and corruption along with careless oversight by the United Nations.

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