The NewsFuror

Wednesday, February 27, 2008

Cambodia leader revisits prison

Duch in court on 20 November 2007
Duch (centre) was asked to talk through Tuol Sleng's daily routine
The chief interrogator of Cambodia's Khmer Rouge has been taken back to a prison he commanded where at least 14,000 people were killed.

Kaing Geuk Eav, also known as Duch, visited the S-21 prison with judges from a tribunal which has charged him with crimes against humanity.

The judges wanted him to explain what happened at the site, known as Tuol Sleng, which is now a genocide museum.

The Khmer Rouge are blamed for more than one million deaths in the 1970s.

Duch is the first of five senior Khmer Rouge officials to be charged in a UN-backed tribunal, but a date for the trial has yet to be set.

Torture chambers

Despite its gruesome history, Tuol Sleng is normally one of the busiest tourist attractions in Phnom Penh.

For Duch's visit with dozens of investigating judges from the UN-backed tribunal, police cordoned off the genocide museum and the surrounding area.

Maoist regime that ruled Cambodia from 1975-1979
Founded and led by Pol Pot, who died in 1998
Abolished religion, schools and currency in a bid to create agrarian utopia
Brutal regime that did not tolerate dissent
More than a million people thought to have died from starvation, overwork or execution

Tuol Sleng was once a school, but the Khmer Rouge surrounded the outside with barbed wire and turned the classrooms into tiny cells and blood-spattered torture chambers.

Thousands of people were tortured there until they admitted to crimes against the revolution. Only a handful of inmates left the prison alive.

Youk Chhang, the director of the Documentation Center of Cambodia, which researches Khmer Rouge atrocities, said the site was a "living nightmare" for Cambodians.

On Tuesday, Duch was taken to visit Choeung Ek, where some 16,000 people were buried in shallow mass graves after being tortured at Tuol Sleng.

Reach Sambath, a tribunal spokesman, said Duch wept during the visit as "the accused explained what happened ... when he was the chief of S-21", the Associated Press news agency reported.

"We noticed that he was feeling pity, tears were rolling down his face two or three times," he said.

A visitor looks at human skulls at Tuol Sleng, Cambodia
The former school is now a museum about the Cambodian genocide

Duch was especially moved, he said, when he stood before a tree with a sign describing how executioners disposed of their child victims by bashing their heads against its trunk.

Both visits, described by officials as re-enactments, were closed to the public and the media.

Duch was arrested and detained in July 2007.

Those also facing charges include Nuon Chea, second-in-command of the late Khmer Rouge leader Pol Pot, the former foreign and social affairs ministers Ieng Sary and Ieng Thirith, and former head of state Khieu Samphan.

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