Khmer Rouge prison chief 'gave all for revolution'

The Khmer Rouge’s prison chief on Monday told Cambodia’s United Nations-backed war crimes court that he had “sacrificed everything” for the revolution that ultimately killed up to two-million people.

Duch, whose real name is Kaing Guek Eav, last week apologised at his trial for war crimes and crimes against humanity, saying he accepted blame for the extermination of thousands of people at the notorious prison Tuol Sleng.

On Monday the grey-haired 66 year old stood, arms folded across his chest, to tell how he left his job as a maths teacher to join the communist movement which became the Khmer Rouge.

“I believed my decision was proper at the time. I sacrificed everything for the revolution, sincerely and absolutely,” Duch said.

“I will write a document about the crimes I did to my people at the time and recall the names involved. Where there was cruel activity by myself, I will reveal it,” he added.

French judge Jean-Marc Lavergne questioned Duch at length about his past, particularly how he came to be sentenced to 20 years in prison for communist activities against the 1960s government of Prince Norodom Sihanouk.

“I joined the revolution in order to transform society, to oppose the government, to oppose torture,” Duch said.

Duch recounted his stay from 1968 to 1969 in Prey Sar prison—a facility that he would later use as part of his Khmer Rouge Tuol Sleng complex.

“That was when prisoners were shot and terrorised for every breath they took,” Duch said of his time in the military prison before he was released after United States-backed General Lon Nol’s 1970 coup.

“The only thing I loved in my life was teaching.
I hoped that once the revolution happened, they would allow me to continue teaching. This was my idea—I did not even think about going and doing what I did,” Duch added.

Hearings are scheduled later this week to focus on M-13 prison, a secret centre that Duch ran from 1971 to 1975 during the Khmer Rouge insurgency against the then government.

The Khmer Rouge were later in power from 1975 to 1979, the period when Duch is accused of supervising Tuol Sleng prison, where 15 000 people were tortured before being sent to their deaths at the so-called “Killing Fields”.

Judge Nil Nonn said it was necessary to hear about M-13 to understand Tuol Sleng’s organising structure, the personality of Duch and the relevance of his role to the Khmer Rouge leadership.

Duch has denied assertions by prosecutors that he played a central role in the Khmer Rouge regime’s iron-fisted rule. He faces life in jail at the court, which does not have the power to impose the death penalty.

The defence has indicated it thinks Duch’s public expression of remorse, in which he pledged to cooperate with the court, should help bring him a reduced prison sentence.

The Khmer Rouge rose to power as a tragic spin-off of the conflict in neighbouring Vietnam, launching a disastrous experiment under its leader Pol Pot to transform the country into a communist, agrarian utopia.

Pol Pot died under house arrest in 1998, and many people in Cambodia believe the UN-sponsored tribunal is the last chance to bring those regime figures still alive to justice.

The tribunal was formed in 2006 after nearly a decade of wrangling between the UN and Cambodian government, and is scheduled to try four other senior Khmer Rouge leaders after Duch’s trial.

However, it has faced controversy over allegations of corruption and political interference, especially after the Cambodian co-prosecutor opposed pursuing six more suspects on grounds it could destabilise the country.—Sapa-AFP

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