(AFP) – Nov 15, 2007
PHNOM PENH (AFP) — Jailed Khmer Rouge ministers Ieng Sary and his wife, Ieng Thirith, have defiantly rejected accusations against them and demanded proof of their guilt, according to court documents released Thursday.
The pair, arrested Monday and charged with war crimes and crimes against humanity, have been formally detained by Cambodia's UN-backed genocide tribunal for their alleged roles in the Khmer Rouge's brutal 1975-79 rule.
Both came before court judges for the first time on Wednesday at a hearing to determine whether there was enough evidence to take them into custody ahead of trials expected in mid-2008.
They are among a group of five former top cadres widely implicated in crimes committed by the Khmer Rouge during one of the 20th century's worst atrocities, including "murder, extermination, imprisonment, enslavement and forced labour," court records said.
Up to two million people were executed, or died of starvation and overwork as the communist regime emptied Cambodia's cities, exiling millions to vast collective farms in a bid to forge an agrarian utopia.
The Khmer Rouge also abolished money, religion and schools.
Ieng Thirith, who acted as the regime's social affairs minister, said "the claims of the co-prosecutors are 100 percent false," according to documents from the hearing, claiming that she was helping to repair hospitals and produce medicines.
Her husband, who was foreign minister for the Khmer Rouge, said similarly that "there are certain accusations that I cannot accept" and demanded proof of his guilt.
In making their decision to keep the pair in jail, judges Marcel Lemonde and You Bunleng said there was a risk both could flee the country, despite claims they were too elderly to leave Cambodia.
Ieng Sary is 82 and reportedly in ill health. His wife is believed to be 75.
Both were also a threat to potential witnesses, the judges ruled, saying they had "numerous family members and sympathisers" in former rebel-held regions, "some of whom currently hold influential positions and even have armed guards."
Two other former regime leaders, Khmer Rouge ideologue Nuon Chea and prison chief Duch, have been jailed by the tribunal and face life in prison if convicted.
A fifth member of the regime's inner circle, former head of state Khieu Samphan, remains free but is expected to be arrested soon.
Khieu Samphan's wife said earlier Thursday that her husband, who has been hospitalised in Phnom Penh for high blood pressure, would not surrender to the court.
"He will go to the tribunal when there is a summons, when there is a warrant," wife Sor Socheat told AFP, adding that her husband had no fears about facing the trial.
Khieu Samphan, 76, was flown on Wednesday from his home in the former rebel stronghold Pailin, in northwest Cambodia, to the capital for treatment on the orders of Prime Minister Hun Sen, who said he feared criticism if the likely genocide suspect died.
With the first trials months away, fears have been raised that ageing Khmer Rouge cadres could face death before a court verdict.
"This has been an obvious problem since the beginning. We are dealing with old people... all of these people could die from one day to another," said co-investigating judge Marcel Lemonde.
Khieu Samphan continued Thursday to receive medical care at Phnom Penh's Calmette Hospital, said Sor Socheat, adding that he was "feeling normal."
She said medical tests conducted Wednesday showed no abnormalities.
"The results came back normal," she said, adding though that doctors wanted Khieu Samphan to remain in hospital.
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