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Khmer Rouge 'First Lady' says too weak for plea

world Updated: Feb 24, 2009 12:36 IST

The former Khmer Rouge "First Lady" said she was too frail to make a plea as she appeared before Cambodia's UN-backed genocide court on Tuesday after her husband had been rushed to hospital.

Ieng Thirith, 76, facing trial for crimes against humanity, told the court that defence lawyers would speak on her behalf during her appeal against detention, saying: "I am too weak."

As the regime's former social affairs minister, she is one of five top cadres in the sights of the UN war crimes tribunal over atrocities committed during the communist Khmer Rouge's 1975-1979 rule.

The health of the ageing suspects is an ongoing concern. Ieng Thirith's husband, former Khmer Rouge foreign minister Ieng Sary, was hospitalised Monday evening for blood in his urine, court spokesman Reach Sambath said.

It was the ninth time Ieng Sary, 83, has been rushed to hospital since the pair were detained by the court in November 2007, the spokesman said.

In documents read to the court on Tuesday, investigating judges argued it was necessary to keep Ieng Thirith in jail to protect her security, preserve public order and ensure she did not flee from trial.

But defence lawyer Phat Pouv Seang demanded Ieng Thirith's immediate release, saying that the investigating judges failed to provide adequate evidence.

After years of wrangling between the Cambodian government and the United Nations, the court was created in 2006 to try leading members of the Khmer Rouge regime.

The long-awaited first trial started last week when the regime's notorious prison chief, 66-year-old Kaing Guek Eav, better known by the alias Duch, went before the court.

Up to two million people were executed or died of starvation, disease and overwork as the Khmer Rouge emptied cities and forced the population to work on collective farms in its bid to create a communist utopia.