‘First lady’ of Cam­bo­dia’s Kh­mer Rouge dies at 83

The China Post - - ASIA - BY SUY SE

The for­mer “first lady” of Cam­bo­dia’s mur­der­ous Kh­mer Rouge regime died Satur­day, ac­cord­ing to a U.N.-backed tri­bunal, with­out vic­tims ever see­ing her face trial on charges of geno­cide and crimes against hu­man­ity.

Ieng Thirith, a French-ed­u­cated rev­o­lu­tion­ary who was 83 when she died, was one of the few women in the lead­er­ship of the com­mu­nist move­ment be­hind the hor­rors of the “Killing Fields” era.

She was among just a hand­ful of sus­pects charged by Cam­bo­dia’s U.N.-backed war crimes court, but was freed in 2012 when the case against her was sus­pended af­ter the court ruled she was un­fit to stand trial due to pro­gres­sive de­men­tia.

Fam­ily ties helped her reach the up­per ech­e­lons of power in a mur­der­ous to­tal­i­tar­ian regime that tore chil­dren from par­ents and hus­bands from wives.

The sis­ter-in-law of late Kh­mer Rouge leader Pol Pot, she served as the regime’s so­cial af­fairs min­is­ter along­side her hus­band, for­mer for­eign min­is­ter Ieng Sary.

She had been hos­pi­tal­ized this year in Thai­land with heart, blad­der and lung prob­lems. She passed away in a for­mer Kh­mer Rouge strong­hold on the Thai bor­der where many regime lead­ers set­tled af­ter they were ousted by the Viet­namese.

“The ac­cused passed away at ap­prox­i­mately 10.30 a.m. (0330 GMT) on 22 Au­gust in Pailin, Cam­bo­dia,” the U.N.-backed tri­bunal said in a state­ment.

“She was re­leased un­der a regime of ju­di­cial su­per­vi­sion. She re­mained un­der ju­di­cial su­per­vi­sion un­til her death,” the state­ment from the Ex­tra­or­di­nary Cham­bers in the Courts of Cam­bo­dia (ECCC) added.

“Her body will be cre­mated on Mon­day evening,” her son Ieng Vuth told AFP by tele­phone from Pailin, adding his mother had died from car­diac ar­rest.

Bit­ter Blow

Though the charges against her were never dropped, the sus­pen- sion of the case against Ieng Thirith was a bit­ter blow to many who sur­vived the regime, blamed for up to two mil­lion deaths.

The Kh­mer Rouge wiped out nearly a quar­ter of the pop­u­la­tion through star­va­tion, forced la­bor and ex­e­cu­tion, in a bid to forge an agrar­ian utopia.

“Now that Ieng Thirith has died, a lit­tle part of jus­tice has also died with her,” Chum Mey, a sur­vivor of the Kh­mer Rouge’s bru­tal Tuol Sleng, told AFP.

Her hus­band Ieng Sary, with whom she had four chil­dren, died in 2013 aged 87, be­fore a ver­dict was de­liv­ered in his trial.

Born Khieu Thirith, the daugh­ter of a well-off judge, she re­counted ear­lier that she was ini­ti­ated into pol­i­tics by her fu­ture hus­band when they were class­mates at high school in Ph­nom Penh, ac­cord­ing to court doc­u­ments.

She at­tended univer­sity in Paris where she ma­jored in Shake­spearean stud­ies and be­came the first Cam­bo­dian to gain a de­gree in English literature.

The glam­our of Paris soon gave way to rev­o­lu­tion­ary yearn­ings with Ieng Sary’s in­creas­ing in­volve­ment in rad­i­cal Marx­ism.

Af­ter re­turn­ing to Cam­bo­dia in 1957 with her hus­band, she worked as a pro­fes­sor be­fore open­ing an English school.

By the mid-1960s she was de­vot­ing her­self en­tirely to her rev­o­lu­tion­ary ac­tiv­i­ties with her hus­band, op­er­at­ing from the Cam­bo­dian jun­gles along the bor­der with Viet­nam.

The cou­ple, along with Pol Pot and his wife Khieu Pon­nary, would be­come the ide­o­log­i­cal cen­ter of a nascent com­mu­nist move­ment that un­leashed un­prece­dented de­struc­tion in the late 1970s.

‘Di­rectly in­volved’

Ieng Thirith was not a mem­ber of the regime’s pow­er­ful stand­ing com­mit­tee but did sit on its coun­cil of min­is­ters, ac­cord­ing to court doc­u­ments.

As so­cial af­fairs min­is­ter, she over­saw the regime’s tight con­trol of medicine sup­plies.

“Ieng Thirith was per­son­ally and di­rectly in­volved in deny­ing Cam­bo­di­ans even the most ba­sic of health care dur­ing the regime’s years in power,” said Youk Ch­hang, di­rec­tor of the Doc­u­men­ta­tion Cen­ter of Cam­bo­dia which re­searches the atroc­i­ties.

She or­dered purges of sus­pected traitors in her min­istry who were sent to re-ed­u­ca­tion camps, and was aware of the regime’s killing of per­ceived en­e­mies, ac­cord­ing to court doc­u­ments.

She al­legedly par­tic­i­pated in the regime’s reg­u­la­tion of mar­riage — in­clud­ing its or­ches­tra­tion of mass forced mar­riages — and re­mained a staunch de­fender of the Kh­mer Rouge long af­ter its demise in the 1990s.

She was ar­rested in 2007, along with her hus­band, and re­fused to co-op­er­ate with the court, con­sis­tently deny­ing re­spon­si­bil­ity for the regime’s crimes.

In an out­burst in court in 2009 she told her ac­cusers they would be “cursed to the sev­enth cir­cle of hell.”

A small num­ber of top Kh­mer Rouge lead­ers have been con­victed, in­clud­ing “Brother Num­ber Two” Nuon Chea, 88, and ex-head of state Khieu Sam­phan, 83.

“Brother Num­ber One” Pol Pot died in 1998 with­out ever fac­ing jus­tice.

AFP

This file photo taken on May 21, 2008 shows for­mer Kh­mer Rouge min­is­ter Ieng Thirith, in court at the Ex­trao­d­i­nary Cham­bers in the Court of Cam­bo­dia (ECCC) in Ph­nom Penh.

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