[JURIST] Cambodian genocide suspect Ek Choeun, also known as Ta Mok [Trial Watch profile], died Thursday after having slipped into a coma [JURIST report] in Phnom Penh earlier this week. He was 80. The former zone secretary and central committee member of the Khmer Rouge [JURIST news archive], who had been suffering from high blood pressure, tuberculosis, respiratory and other problems, was initially hospitalized late last month [JURIST report]. Ta Mok's death means that he will avoid prosecution before the Khmer Rouge genocide tribunal [task force website, in Khmer; timeline] scheduled to begin holding trials next year.
Ta Mok, captured in 1999, and Khang Khek Leu, the former S-21 [Wikipedia backgrounder] torture center chief better known as "Comrade Duch," were the only former Khmer Rouge leaders from the 1975-79 communist regime already in prison awaiting trial. Just last week, official investigations began [JURIST report] into criminal acts allegedly committed by surviving leaders of the communist Khmer Rouge regime, which ruled Cambodia from 1975 to 1978 and was responsible for the deaths of at least 1.5 million Cambodians by execution, forced hardships or starvation in the so-called "Killing Fields." Prosecutors have warned, however, that it could take several months to return indictments [JURIST report]. Nuon Chea, Ieng Sary and Khieu Samphan, who all remain free, are also likely to face prosecution if they survive. AFP has more.