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Wife of late Khmer Rouge leader dies
Underscores urgency for Khmer Rouge trial

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PHNOM PENH, Cambodia – Khieu Ponnary, the first wife of the late Khmer Rouge leader Pol Pot and member of his regime's inner circle, died in northwestern Cambodia on the evening of July 1, 2003. She was 83 and suffered from cancer and mental illness.

Khieu Ponnary was the first female Cambodian to graduate from high school, earning a baccalaureate degree from Phnom Penh's elite Lycee Sisowath in 1940, during the French colonial period.

She married Pol Pot in 1956 and participated in her husband's communist revolutionary activities from the 1950s, going underground in 1965 and serving as head of the national women's association when the Khmer Rouge was in power from 1975-79.

Those close to Khieu Ponnary, say that her mental illness was already very serious by 1970 when the civil war in Cambodia first began.

Pol Pot, who died in 1998 as a prisoner of his Khmer Rouge comrades, had separated from her in the 1980s and took a second, younger wife in 1985 by whom he had a daughter.

US-based Khmer Rouge scholar Craig Etcheson views the death of Pol Pot's first wife as an underscore to the urgency in prosecuting the late despot's henchmen for alleged crimes against humanity before they die from natural causes.

Currently, an international tribunal aimed at trying leaders from the ultra-Maoists is in the final stages and will cover the period of their rule from April 1975 to January 1979 where an estimated 1.7 million Cambodians were killed.

Khieu Ponnary's sister Ieng Thirith and her husband Ieng Sary, the former foreign minister in the regime, are among those cited by scholars for trial.

Etcheson said delays in five years of negotiating the trial with the United Nations meant Cambodians had been partially robbed of justice.

"Delays also mean that it is a self-evident truth of the lack of morality and respect for human rights in Cambodia."

A Buddhist ritual and cremation ceremony was held for Khieu Ponnary on Thursday.

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