Brother No 2 Nuon Chea is concerned about his failing health but remains at his home in Pailin and has not traveled to Thailand for medical treatment, the aging former Khmer Rouge leader said Tuesday.
“I will go to have a check up at a Thai hospital in Bangkok next month,” Nuon Chea, 78, said by telephone from Pailin. “My doctor has instructed me to get [my health] checked as scheduled.”
Media reports on Monday quoted Nuon Chea’s wife, Ly Kim Seng, as telling reporters that her husband had left the country and checked into a hospital in Thailand’s Chanthaburi province two weeks ahead of a scheduled check-up for high blood pressure.
Nuon Chea admitted that his health is weakening and high blood pressure is causing him problems. But he said he was trying to stay healthy in case he is called to appear at the long-stalled Khmer Rouge tribunal.
“I am taking care of myself and my health, because I am preparing myself to go to court,” he said. “But I do not know how long I can stand in it.
“My health has not been good for many years,” he added. “Even now as I talk on the phone I am on the bed because I can not get up from the bed because I feel dizzy.”
Second-in-command below Khmer Rouge leader Pol Pot, Nuon Chea is one of a handful of former Khmer Rouge leaders expected to stand trial at the future $56.3-million tribunal.
Though UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan said in April that the tribunal should proceed, the Cambodian government recently claimed the trial cannot begin until it has found donations to cover the remaining $11.8 million of its share of the budget.
Observers have voiced concern that the process of establishing the tribunal is taking too long and that trial suspects, who are old and in poor health, could die before they are brought before the court.
Nuon Chea said his wife told reporters he was already in Thailand because he was not feeling well enough to speak with them.
“Some people always disturb me when I am sick,” he said.
Nuon Chea’s reported departure from Pailin follows shortly after King Norodom Sihamoni made his first visit to the former Khmer Rouge stronghold on Sunday where he was welcomed by thousands of residents.
Nuon Chea and fellow Khmer Rouge leaders Ieng Sary and Khieu Samphan live in Pailin but did not attend the ceremony to mark the King’s visit.
A Royal Palace official who asked not to be named said no such meeting was in the cards.
“It’s not right to meet with any former Khmer Rouge leaders because the King would be criticized,” the official said. “It is not his function. He just went to see the general people.”
A Thai embassy official said Tuesday that he was not aware of Nuon Chea applying for a visa to enter Thailand for medical treatment.
(Additional reporting by Lee Berthiaume)