[JURIST] Ek Choeun, also known as Ta Mok [Trial Watch profile] has slipped into a coma in a Phnom Penh hospital. His lawyer has told reporters he could die this week and is unlikely to survive until the Khmer Rouge genocide tribunal [official task force website; timeline] begins holding trials next year. The one-legged Ta Mok, formerly a zone secretary and central committee member of the Khmer Rouge [JURIST news archive], has been suffering from high blood pressure, tuberculosis, respiratory and other problems and was hospitalized late last month [JURIST report]. Reach Sambath, spokesman for the Extraordinary Chambers in the Courts of Cambodia called Ta Mok "the key person if he is indicted by the ECCC," and noted that "we need him to recover."
In a related development Monday, the Cambodian Human Rights Action Committee (CHRAC), reacting to reports by medical personnel that doctors tried to move Ta Mok to a different hospital but were denied permission due to security reasons, has called on the government and the UN to send the former Khmer Rouge leader from a Cambodian military hospital to a better facility. Prime Minister Hun Sen's advisor Om Yentieng said that NGOs are not doctors, and that "the doctors know their work." He added that the CHRAC was abusing the doctors' rights by asking for the relocation.
Ta Mok, captured in 1999, and Duch, the former S-21 [Wikipedia backgrounder] torture center chief, are the only two former Khmer Rouge leaders that are currently imprisoned. Prosecutors officially began their investigation last week [JURIST report] into criminal acts allegedly committed by surviving leaders of the communist Khmer Rouge regime which ruled Cambodia from 1975-1978 and was responsible for the deaths of at least 1.5 million Cambodians by execution, forced hardships, or starvation in the so-called "Killing Fields." Prosecutors have warned, however, that it could take several months to return indictments [JURIST report]. Nuon Chea, Ieng Sary, and Khieu Samphan who all remain free, are also among the Khmer Rouge leaders likely to face prosecution if they survive through the trial. BBC news has more. The Phnom Penh Post has local coverage [subscription required].
Andrew Wood is an Associate Editor for JURIST working in Cambodia this summer.