A New Zealand ageing specialist has told Cambodia's war crimes court that he "would not be surprised" if genocide defendant Nuon Chea died within six months.
Geriatrician John Campbell testified on Monday at a health hearing for Nuon Chea, 86, to determine the defendant's fitness to continue being tried, 11 days after the death of a co-accused, Ieng Sary, 87.
"Would we be surprised if this person is not alive in six months?" Prof Campbell told the bench. "I have to say that in Nuon Chea's situation, we would not be surprised."
Nuon Chea, regarded as the Khmer Rouge's chief ideologue, suffers from heart disease, dizziness, fatigue and high blood pressure. He is also unable to stand.
However, Prof Campbell, professor of geriatric medicine at the University of Otago, also said Nuon Chea was well enough to follow proceedings and later said he would also not be surprised if the defendant was still alive in a year's time.
Health woes and the court's slow progress have heightened fears that none of the former leaders would live long enough to hear judgement for the crimes of the ultra-Maoist regime, under whose 1975-79 rule an estimated two million people died from execution, overwork, starvation and disease.
Last year, the court ruled that dementia had left another defendant, former social affairs minister Ieng Thirith, unfit for trial.
The recent death of her husband, Ieng Sary, the Khmer Rouge's foreign minister, has left only Nuon Chea and former head of state, Khieu Samphan, 81, to face charges of genocide, war crimes and crimes against humanity.