Former senior Khmer Rouge leader Ieng Sary has died, Cambodia’s UN-backed court has announced.
The 87-year-old was on trial for genocide committed under the 1975-79 Maoist regime at the time of his death.
He served as the regime’s foreign minister and was often the only point of contact between Cambodia’s rulers and the outside world.
He and three co-defendants were accused of leading a campaign of mass murder in which up to two million people died.
“We can confirm that Ieng Sary died this morning after being hospitalised since 4 March,” court spokesman Lars Olsen said.
Ieng Sary went on trial in November 2011 along with “Brother Number Two” Nuon Chea, and former head of state Khieu Samphan. All three denied the charges.
His wife, Ieng Thirith, was also prosecuted, but was found incapable of standing trial because of ill health. She is thought to be suffering from Alzheimer’s disease.
Ieng Sary was the brother-in-law of the Khmer Rouge leader, Pol Pot, with whom he founded the organisation. Pol Pot died in 1998 while hiding in Cambodia’s jungles.
As foreign minister, Ieng Sary was said to have been responsible for convincing many educated Cambodians who had fled the Khmer Rouge to return to help rebuild the country.
Many were then tortured and executed as part of the purge of intellectuals.
Many Cambodians have expressed frustration at the pace of the UN-backed genocide court, voicing concern that remaining defendants may die before being brought to justice.
The only former Khmer Rouge leader to have be successfully prosecuted was chief jailer Kaing Guek Eav, known as Duch, who was sentenced to life imprisonment for his role in running the notorious Tuol Sleng prison, where thousands of inmates were killed.