Former Khmer Rouge minister Ieng Thirith.
Credit: Tang Chhin Sothy

Former Khmer Rouge leader leng Thirith is to be set free after a Cambodian court ruled she was too sick to stand trial on charges of genocide, the BBC reported.

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The UN war crimes court accepted the defense's argument that Thirith, Pol Pot's sister-in-law, had a diminished mental capacity that was probably the result of Alzheimer's disease. In a statement, the court said:

"On the basis of the court-appointed medical experts' report and testimony, the Trial Chamber has today reaffirmed its prior finding that the accused Ieng Thirith suffers from a progressive, degenerative illness [likely Alzheimer's disease] and that she remains unfit to stand trial."

The court said there was no prospect the 80-year-old Thirith, who served as the regime's social affairs minister, could be tried "in the foreseeable future," adding that her cognitive impairment “is likely irreversible.”

The ruling upholds an earlier decision, Voice of America reported, adding that while all charges have been dropped against the woman once dubbed the “First Lady” of the Khmer Rouge, her release does not reflect a ruling on her guilt or innocence.

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During the Khmer Rouge's rule, from 1975 to 1979, an estimated 1.7 million people died from execution, starvation, exhaustion or lack of medical care.

Survivors of the communist regime denounced the ruling as shocking and unjust, the Associated Press reported. It quoted 71-year-old Bou Meng, whose wife and two children were executed in prison:

"I had always hoped that the Khmer Rouge leaders would be brought to court for justice — but now they are freeing her ... Where is the justice for my dead wife and children?"

As reported by GlobalPost, three top surviving Khmer Rouge leaders accused of orchestrating Cambodia's "killing fields" are on trial in Phnom Penh.

The men — Nuon Chea, Khieu Samphan and Ieng Sary — are in poor health and aged in their eighties. They face charges of crimes against humanity, genocide, religious persecution, homicide and torture.

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