Khmer Rouge "Butcher" dies ahead of trial

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Friday, July 21, 2006

Ta Mok, also known as the "Butcher", military commander of the Khmer Rouge regime which terrorised Cambodia in the 1970s, has died in a military hospital in Phnom Penh. He was facing trial for genocide and crimes against humanity committed during the regime's rule.

Ta Mok had been in detention since 1999 and was recently transferred to prison hospital suffering from high blood pressure and Tuberculosis. The 82-year old had slipped into coma a week ago and died of natural causes, "given his poor health and respiratory problems," a doctor told Reuters today.

Ta Mok's real name is not known, but reported to be Ek Choeun or Oeung Choeun. He joined the Khmer Rouge after being part of anti-French colonial and anti-Japanese resistance movements, rising to become the Maoist group's Chief-of-Staff. He is believed to have directed the purges of the Democratic Kampuchea regime, in which an estimated 1.7 million people were tortured and killed in what is now referred to as "the killing fields", earning him the name "The Butcher". After the fall of the regime, he continued to lead a faction, until captured by the Cambodian forces in 1999.

His death leaves only one surviving Khmer Rouge commander, Kang Kek Leu ("Duch"), the chief of the Tuol Sleng S-21 interrogation centre to face trial. Most of the other surviving regime leaders are also in poor health. The regime leader Pol Pot died in 1998, also before facing trial. This has prompted questions about whether the trials have been delayed too long. The trials are to be conducted before a special tribunal created by Cambodia, with support from the United Nations.

A spokesman for the tribunal, Reach Sambath, said on Friday that a "key resource of information" had passed away.

Youk Chang, director of the Documentation Centre of Cambodia which is studying the crimes committed by the Khmer Rouge, said his death was "outrageous". "Some people may be happy with this," he told AP, "but not the victims who have been waiting for justice for a long time,"

Ta Mok's nephew Morm Mol said he was "saddened" by his uncle's death.

Sources

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