Ieng Sary, the former foreign minister of the Khmer Rouge who was one of three elderly leaders on trial on charges of genocide, crimes against humanity and war crimes, died Thursday in a hospital in Phnom Penh, Cambodia, where he had been taken from his holding cell. He was 87.
His lawyers said he was hospitalized with gastrointestinal problems March 4. Ieng Sary (pronounced yeng sah-REE) had been treated for heart problems and other ailments for years.
His death was announced by the special tribunal trying him, with U.N. backing. Ieng Sary, a brother-in-law of Pol Pot, the top leader of the Khmer Rouge, was part of an inner circle of Paris-educated communists who led the movement, which caused the deaths of 1.7 million people from starvation, overwork, and execution during its rule from 1975 to 1979.
Only one person, Kaing Guek Eav, a prison commander known as Duch (pronounced doik), has been convicted in connection with those deaths.
He was convicted in 2010 and sentenced to life in prison in February 2012. The remaining defendants are Nuon Chea, the movement’s chief ideologue, and Khieu Samphan, the nominal head of state of the Khmer Rouge.
Both are in their 80s. As foreign minister, Ieng Sary helped persuade hundreds of Cambodian diplomats and intellectuals to return home from overseas to help the new revolutionary government.
The returnees were sent to “re-education camps,” and most were executed.
Ieng Sary “repeatedly and publicly encouraged, and also facilitated, arrests and executions within his Foreign Ministry and throughout Cambodia,” wrote Stephen Heder, a Cambodia scholar who assisted the tribunal and is a co-author of “Seven Candidates for Prosecution: Accountability for the Crimes of the Khmer Rouge.”
Before his arrest in 2007, Ieng Sary said: “I have done nothing wrong. I am a gentle person. I believe in good deeds. I even performed good deeds to save several people’s lives.”
At a news conference he blamed Pol Pot for the mass killings and also pointed a finger at Nuon Chea, who he said was implicated in torture and execution.
Ieng Sary’s wife, Ieng Thirith, whose sister was married to Pol Pot, was also a defendant until she was excused because she has dementia.
Pol Pot died in 1998 in a jungle stronghold of the Khmer Rouge and never faced a courtroom.