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Khmer Rouge chief wants swift trial

Published: 8:53PM Friday June 30, 2006 Source: Reuters

Ta Mok, the aged Khmer Rouge military chief ailing in a Cambodian hospital, wants to be tried as soon as possible, his lawyer said on Friday.

The one-legged 82 year old, in detention since 1999, appeared worried he would not get the chance to tell his side of the story at trials not expected to start until next year, Benson Samay said.

"Try me now before I die, so that I can tell the court who is the mastermind of the massacre," he quoted Ta Mok as saying of internationally supervised trials of some of the leaders deemed responsible for the deaths of 1.7 million Cambodians.

The 30 judges, including foreigners, appointed to try them will be sworn in on Monday and prosecutors are due to start assembling their cases in July.

But no date has been set for the long-delayed trials, and there are fears that surviving Khmer Rouge leaders might not live to see them start.

"The estimated date for the start of the Khmer Rouge trials  is the first quarter of 2007," tribunal spokesman Reach Sambath said.

"We know the former Khmer Rouge leaders are getting older and older and that is why we, the court, are trying our best to speed up the legal process," he said.

Pol Pot, the Khmer Rouge's "Brother Number One", died in 1998. "Brother Number Two" Nuon Chea, former head of state Khieu Samphan and ex-Foreign Minister Ieng Sary are free.

None has faced justice in a country where almost every family lost relatives to execution, starvation, forced labour or disease during their years of power from 1975-1979.

But none is thought to be as in poor health as Ta Mok - real name Ong Chhoeun -who was taken to a military hospital on Thursday suffering from high blood pressure and respiratory problems.

Hospital officials said his problems were not yet life threatening, but that could change swiftly.

"He is an old man and could die of high blood pressure some day. We just do not know when," senior military doctor Tuoth Nara said.