Khieu Samphan, the former Khmer Rouge head of state, collapsed Tuesday night at his Pailin home and was flown by government helicopter to Phnom Penh for medical treatment Wednesday morning.
His arrest by the Extraordinary Chambers in the Courts of Cambodia is thought to be imminent.
Neighbor Ung Savuth said Khieu Samphan, who suffers from high blood pressure, stood up from his hammock at around 6:30 pm Tuesday, blacked out, and fell down.
Ung Savuth and about five other neighbors rushed to help, massaging the 76-year-old’s body until doctors arrived half an hour later, he said. “He could not move his arms and feet,” Ung Savuth added.
Local government officials, including Pailin Governor Y Chhien, monitored Khieu Samphan’s health through the night, officials and a neighbor said.
Just before 7 am Wednesday about 40 police and military police surrounded Khieu Samphan’s home, neighbors said. Around 10:30 am, Pailin Deputy Governor Ich Sarou and Cabinet Chief Klok Nuoy escorted a frail-looking Khieu Samphan, clad in a floppy white hat and checkered slippers, to a waiting RCAF helicopter, locals said.
Khieu Samphan arrived at Calmette Hospital in a white Land Cruiser around 12:30 pm, under the heavy guard of police’s elite anti-terrorism unit.
One police officer drew his pistol, menacing the small crowd of journalists who had gathered outside the hospital’s entrance.
Khieu Samphan’s wife, So Socheat, who also traveled to Phnom Penh, said her husband was feeling better Wednesday morning and would have preferred to stay at his home in Pailin.
“We didn’t want to go anywhere,” she said. “Now he is all right. He can eat and walk. We can go home,” she added.
It was not immediately clear when they would be permitted to leave, So Socheat added.
Speaking at a graduation ceremony at the National Education Institute Wednesday morning, Prime Minister Hun Sen said that now that aging Khmer Rouge leaders are facing prosecution, the government bears a special responsibility for their health. “If someone does something against them, [critics] will blame the Royal Government. Who will be affected first? It is only Hun Sen,” Hun Sen said.
“If [Khieu Samphan] dies we will have a problem,” he said, adding that Khieu Samphan was flown to Calmette at the request of Interior Minister Sar Kheng.
At 65, S-21 prison chief Kaing Guek Eav, aka Duch, is the youngest of the four defendants now awaiting trial at the ECCC.
Nuon Chea, 81, Pol Pot’s most trusted deputy, is said to suffer from high blood pressure and heart problems.
Khmer Rouge foreign minister Ieng Sary, 82, and his wife, Khmer Rouge minister of social action Ieng Thirith, 75, underwent a medical examination at Calmette Tuesday, said Peter Foster, the tribunal’s UN public affairs officer.
No significant health issues were uncovered that prevented the couple from being questioned, as planned, by court prosecutors and co-investigating judges Wednesday, Foster said.
Pailin Deputy Governor Keut Sothea said he visited Khieu Samphan Tuesday night.
Local officials had wanted to send Khieu Samphan to the nearest hospital, which is in Thailand, but ultimately accepted the government’s offer to fly him to Phnom Penh instead, he said.
Pailin Deputy Governor Ich Sarou said he stayed with Khieu Samphan through the night, monitoring his health at the request of a government official he would not name.
Six doctors, from Battambang provincial town and Pailin town, attended to Khieu Samphan Tuesday, he said.
Khieu Samphan was legitimately ill and was put on oxygen for three hours, he added. “I don’t believe that he acted to be sick,” he said.
Some have expressed skepticism about the timing of Khieu Samphan’s collapse, which happened the day after Ieng Sary and Ieng Thirith were arrested.
“His health problem is like Nuon Chea’s health or Ieng Sary’s case,” said Thun Saray, president of local rights group Adhoc. “They try to make a lot of noise about this and make a lot of people worry.”
In recent weeks, neighbors have said Khieu Samphan was in good health, taking daily exercise in his yard. His brother, Khieu Sengkim, 62, said Wednesday that he was unaware that his brother had been ill. “I often visited him in Pailin, but every time he has good health.”