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Former Khmer Rouge commander dies while serving Cambodia life sentence

[JURIST] Former Khmer Rouge Commander Sam Bith died Friday at the age of 74 after suffering from a history of high blood pressure and diabetes. Bith was serving a life sentence after being convicted by a Cambodian court in 2002 of ordering the kidnapping and execution of three tourists stemming from an attack on a train in southwest Cambodia in 1994. The three men were held for three months before they were killed while the Cambodia government tried unsuccessfully to negotiate for their release. Bith was not charged by the UN-backed Extraordinary Chambers in the Courts of Cambodia (ECCC) [official website] as the court's jurisdiction is limited to crimes that occurred between April 1975 and January 1979, the period in which Cambodia was controlled by the Khmer Rouge. An exact cause of death was not released to the public.

The Khmer Rouge is generally held responsible for the genocide of an estimated 1.7 million Cambodians [PPU backgrounder] who died between 1975 and 1979. The ECCC was established by a 2001 law [text as amended 2005, PDF] to investigate and try surviving Khmer Rouge officials, but to date, no top officials have faced trials. In December, Cambodian students and Buddhist monks took to the streets [JURIST report] over concerns that the trials are moving too slowly and that many former Khmer Rouge leaders in UN custody could die before trials are actually held. The ECCC has cited disputes with the Cambodian Bar Association [JURIST report] over membership fees for foreign attorneys, as well as procedural issues [JURIST report] and the language barrier for delays in moving to the trial stage. Five former Khmer Rouge leaders are currently in the ECCC's custody. AP has more.

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