KR Chief Ta Mok Dies in Military Hospital

Former Khmer Rouge military chief Ta Mok died in Phnom Penh’s Preah Khet Mealea Military Hospital at 4:45 am on Friday morning, seven years, four months and two weeks after being captured and imprisoned without trial by the government.

A doctor at the hospital said that Ta Mok, 81, died from old age and tuberculosis.

“He deteriorated sharply into serious condition from 2 am,” the doctor said on condition of anonymity.

Several of Ta Mok’s relatives attempted to enter the hospital grounds in the hours after his death but were held back by guards.

“Some of his children and grandchildren wish to bury him in An­long Veng. We want to take his body for a Buddhist ceremony,” Mam Mol, 33, a nephew of Ta Mok said outside the hospital.

At around 11:30 am, an ambulance with tinted windows, escorted by two pick-up trucks carrying military police officers, left the hospital carrying Ta Mok’s remains to Anlong Veng in Oddar Meanchey province.

Ta Mok’s niece Ven Ra blamed what she called the government’s illegal detention of her uncle for his rapid decline in health and death.

She also said that her family was charged $600 to transport Ta Mok’s body to his home in Anlong Veng.

“The government is at fault, they arrested and detained him illegally until he died,” Ven Ra said.

“Why didn’t they also arrest the other [Khmer Rouge] leaders?”

Just days before the Khmer Rouge tribunal judges and prosecutors were sworn in on July 3, Ta Mok was moved from his military prison to the military hospital.

Doctors said the aging guerrilla commander was suffering from respiratory problems, and it later emerged that Ta Mok was also being treated for tuberculosis. Shortly after arriving at the hospital, Ta Mok began to slip in and out of consciousness.

His lawyer Benson Samay alleged that the medical care that Ta Mok had received in prison had been inadequate, and that by delaying for months his request to move his client to hospital, the government had contributed to his worsening condition.

Military Court President Ney Thol, who has been appointed as a judge to the Khmer Rouge tribunal, said the government did everything it could to save Ta Mok.

“As I see, there was transparency all the way. Ta Mok got special treatment,” he said. “There is no trick on this issue. We helped the best we could.”

Ney Thol said earlier this month that he did not heed the request to move Ta Mok to hospital earlier because the 81-year-old was not sick enough.

On Friday Benson Samay struck a more conciliatory tone and said that doctors had done everything they could for his client.

“He died of mere aging illness that cannot be prevented,” Benson Samay said, adding that a French doctor from Calmette Hospital also examined Ta Mok.

“Foreign doctors and Cambo­dian doctors made a lot of effort to save him.”

The death of Ta Mok raises questions about whether the Khmer Rouge tribunal will actually be able to try the aging and infirm suspects and witnesses.

Extraordinary Chambers in the Courts of Cambodia spokesman Reach Sambath said that the ECCC would not comment about specific individuals such as Ta Mok as the investigation phase of the genocide tribunal has just begun.

“The ECCC still believes there are sufficient witnesses and evidence,” he said.

The International Committee of the Red Cross said Friday that it had also visited Ta Mok in hospital on Wednesday to check on the adequacy of his care.

Deputy Regional Director Beat Schneider conducted interviews with medical staff, ICRC Field Officer Lim Sokhom said Friday. Schneider was in Thailand and could not be reached for comment.

Prime Minister Hun Sen’s domestic policy adviser Om Yentieng called Ta Mok’s death a disappointment.

“Everybody had made every effort to have the tribunal happen to try Khmer Rouge leaders and to keep Ta Mok alive for it,” he said.

Hundreds of passersby gathered in front of the hospital as news of the infamous Khmer Rouge leader’s death spread.

“I really regret his death before the trial,” said one onlooker So Him, 56, who lost relative during the Khmer Rouge regime.

“I wanted him to live longer until the truth was reveled.”

Sun Map, 29, blamed the glacial pace of negotiations to establish the Khmer Rouge tribunal.

“If the court had been set up one year earlier, then he would have had a chance to tell the truth.”

Rights group Licadho President Kek Galabru said Ta Mok’s death shows the danger caused by years of delay and foot dragging in setting up the ECCC.

“We have already said it again and again that the tribunal has to get underway quickly or precious witnesses like Ta Mok will die,” she said.

“We are very worried that if the Extraordinary Chambers does not proceed quickly, there will be more of these surprises.”

Kek Galabru called on Ta Mok’s family to release the body to a forensic doctor, possibly in Thailand, to determine his exact cause of death.

“Ta Mok always said he was ready to testify and reveal the truth of what happened,” she said.

“Now that is lost.”

(Reporting by Phann Ana, Lor Chandara, Prak Chan Thul and Erik Wasson)

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