Khieu Samphan Hospitalized With Breathing Difficulties

Former Khmer Rouge Head of State Khieu Samphan was taken to the hospital on Wednesday suffering from a number of ailments, including shortness of breath, just four days after fellow war crimes defendant Nuon Chea collapsed and was hospitalized with severe bronchitis.

Khmer Rouge tribunal legal communications officer Lars Olsen said Khieu Samphan, 81, was taken to the Khmer-Soviet Friendship Hospital in Phnom Penh and will remain there until his health has been assessed.

“[Khieu Samphan] was admitted to the Khmer Friendship Hospital this morning,” Mr. Olsen said in an email. “[He] will stay there under observation for the time being.”

Asked what was wrong with the aging defendant, Mr. Olsen said: “The court is waiting for a diagnosis from the hospital, but he was hospitalized due to weakness/fatigue and shortness of breath.”

Chhoeung Yav Yen, deputy director of the Khmer-Soviet Friendship Hospital, confirmed Khieu Samphan’s admittance.

“He was sent to the hospital in the morning because he was not fine, but I still do not yet know exactly whether he will stay in hospital or not,” he said.

Kim Samsan, chief of the hospital’s treatment department, said Khieu Samphan was admitted at about 10 a.m.

“We are still not sure of his disease, but we are monitoring his health,” he said, adding that Khieu Samphan’s condition was not serious.

According to Dr. Samsan, Khieu Samphan would most likely remain in the hospital for between four days and one week.

Khieu Samphan’s international defense lawyer Arthur Vercken said he had met with his client briefly on Wednesday.

“Khieu Samphan is really participating, he is willing to explain himself, but for the moment he needs rest,” Mr. Vercken said.

While his client was “not the kind of guy who complains about his health,” Mr. Verken noted that given the ages of the co-accused, “even a cold for them can be very strong.”

Khieu Samphan’s admission to hospital is yet another setback for the Khmer Rouge tribunal’s Case 002, which is still stuck in the first of several so-called “mini-trials.”

Before being admitted to the hospital, Khieu Samphan appeared to be one of the healthier of the co-accused. Despite having collapsed at his Pailin province home on the evening prior to his arrest in November 2007 and undergoing a short hospital stay in May 2008 for high blood pressure, Khieu Samphan has been consistently present in court for hearings.

Pol Pot’s second in command, 86-year-old Nuon Chea, was admitted to the hospital on Sunday after collapsing at the tribunal’s detention center. Doctors at the hospital diagnosed him on Monday as suffering from severe bronchitis.

The oldest of the three remaining Case 002 detainees, 88-year-old former Khmer Rouge Foreign Minister Ieng Sary, was also hospitalized for two months late last year.

He suffers from a number of ailments, among them heart disease, high blood pressure and lumbago, and has undergone four heart operations since 1994. He has been hospitalized at least 11 times since his 2007 arrest. His most recent stay in the hospital was due largely to pressure exerted by his collarbone on a vein, which caused him to feel lightheaded.

Dr. Samsan said Nuon Chea was still in the hospital, but that his condition was improving.

“Nuon Chea’s health is better, and he will leave the hospital after about four or five days more,” Dr. Samsan said.

Khieu Samphan’s daughter, Khieu Rattana, said by telephone that she did not have any information about her father’s condition.

“I don’t know because I have not yet gone to meet him,” she said, adding that her mother had asked his legal team about the possibility of making a visit.

Panhavuth Long, a program officer for the Cambodian Justice Initiative, said that Khieu Samphan’s health woes did not appear to be as pressing as that of his fellow defendants. Still, he recommended that the Trial Chamber think of new ways to ensure that the first of the “mini-trials” could conclude so that the defendants’ fair trial rights are respected, while ensuring that victims get “fair justice.”

“I think it’s better that for the first segment of the trial, a judgement is issued as soon as possible, and that the judges be creative,” he said.

“They have to decide whether or not it is very important to delay proceedings when the accused cannot even sit in the courtroom where they have to observe trial. What is the difference if they are waiting and watching from a cell or are hospitalized?” Mr. Long said.

On Tuesday, the court suspended hearings in Case 002, which only restarted on January 8 after a two-week break. Mr. Olsen said an update on future hearings would be issued in due course.

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