Khmer Rouge 'first lady' discharged from hospital in Thailand

In a file picture taken on March 21, 2013 Cambodian former Khmer Rouge leader ex-social affairs minister Ieng Thirith cries during the funeral of former Khmer Rouge foreign minister Ieng Sary in Malai, near the Cambodian-Thai border some 400km north-
In a file picture taken on March 21, 2013 Cambodian former Khmer Rouge leader ex-social affairs minister Ieng Thirith cries during the funeral of former Khmer Rouge foreign minister Ieng Sary in Malai, near the Cambodian-Thai border some 400km north-west of Phnom Penh. The former "first lady" of Cambodia's murderous Khmer Rouge regime has been discharged from a Thai hospital after an improvement in her health, her lawyer said on Monday, Aug 4, 2014. -- PHOTO: AFP

PHNOM PENH (AFP) - The former "first lady" of Cambodia's murderous Khmer Rouge regime has been discharged from a Thai hospital after an improvement in her health, her lawyer said Monday.

Ieng Thirith, 82, returned to Cambodia last week, days before the UN-backed court which freed her delivers its verdict on the two most senior surviving members of the Khmer Rouge.

The case against Ieng Thirith was suspended after the court ruled dementia left her unfit to stand trial, releasing her from detention in September 2012 after around five years.

The widow of Khmer Rouge foreign minister Ieng Sary - and herself a social affairs minister under the regime - had been hospitalised in Thailand since March.

Heart, urinary, and lung problems left her relying on a feeding tube and oxygen to survive, her son Ieng Vuth, the deputy governor of northwestern Pailin province - a former Khmer Rouge stronghold - said in May.

But on Monday her Cambodian lawyer said her health had slightly improved.

"She was discharged from the (Thai) hospital last week and is at her son's home in Pailin province," Phat Pouv Seang said. "She is better now. She is breathing on her own, not by the machine anymore," he added.

The suspension of the case against Ieng Thirith, one of only a handful of people ever brought before a court over atrocities during the Khmer Rouge era, was a bitter blow to many who survived the regime, blamed for the deaths of up to two million people.

Her husband Ieng Sary died aged 87 in March last year while on trial for war crimes and genocide, cheating Cambodians of a verdict over his role in the regime's 1975-1979 reign of terror.

On Thursday the UN-backed tribunal will deliver its verdict on the first trial against "Brother Number Two" Nuon Chea, 88, and former head of state Khieu Samphan, 83.

The trial has been billed as a chance for reconciliation and as key to hopes for justice after more than 35 years.

Led by "Brother Number One" Pol Pot, who died in 1998, the Khmer Rouge dismantled modern society and wiped out nearly a quarter of the population through starvation, overwork and execution in a bid to create an agrarian utopia.

After its first trial in 2010 the court sentenced former S-21 prison chief Kaing Guek Eav, known as Duch, to 30 years in prison - increased to life on appeal - for overseeing the death of 15,000 people.