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Horror trial is TV hit in Cambodia

Written By vibykhmer on Tuesday, August 25, 2009 | 7:20 AM

A man in Cambodia watches a live telecast of the trial of chief Khmer Rouge torturer Kaing Guek Eav, also known as Duch. [Reuters]

Australia Network News

Robert Carmichael, Phnom Penh

A half-hour television show has proved a surprise success in Cambodia by telling people about the trial of Comrade Duch, the former Khmer Rouge prison commander.

It has become an important way to tell the country of the crimes committed under the Khmer Rouge regime.

Much television fare in Cambodia is light entertainment.

But this show presented by journalists Neth Pheaktra and Ung Chan Sophea is at the other end of the spectrum.

It deals with the continuing war crimes trial of Comrade Duch - Kaing Guek Eav - the former Khmer Rouge cadre who ran the notorious S-21 prison in Phnom Penh in the middle and late 1970s.


Co-presenter Neth Pheaktra told Radio Australia's Connect Asia: "It is a summary of the week of the Duch trial.

"During the 24 minutes of the program we have the summary, the diary of the Duch trial, and also the key points that the witness, the defendant and also the judges reveal in the court."

At least 15,000 people were sent to S-21 prison, and almost all were tortured and executed. As many as two million people are thought to have died during the Khmer Rouge rule of Cambodia between 1975 and 1979.

Informing Cambodians of the facts of the country's genocide is a key part of the remit of the joint UN-Cambodian Khmer Rouge tribunal, says tribunal spokesman Reach Sambath.

But that is a challenge in Cambodia, where more than 80 percent of people live in rural areas, and levels of illiteracy are high.

Reach Sambath says TV and radio broadcasts are an important way of informing people.

Another way is physically to bring them to the courtroom, which is located on the outskirts of Phnom Penh.


"By the end of this week we had more than 17,000 Cambodians (visit) from across the country," says the spokesman.

"And when they come to the court, which we call 'Seeing is Believing', everybody goes home and they talk with their friends and relatives."

The weekly television show, which is independent of the tribunal's public affairs section, reaches a lot more people than that.

Reach Sambath says the show provides an excellent summary of the week's events for people who are too busy to watch the daily live feed broadcast on television.

The program is the creation of a local production company called Khmer Mekong Films, or KMF, and is funded mainly by the British Embassy.

KMF executive producer, Briton Matthew Robinson, says the broadcaster estimates the show, which runs in the prime lunchtime slot on Mondays and is repeated on Tuesdays, is seen by up to three million of Cambodia's 15 million people.

Presenter Ung Chan Sophea says informing Cambodia's youth of the terrible events under the Khmer Rouge regime is extremely important.

She regularly has young people telling her how much they enjoy the show, and how much they have learned from it.

"I am very happy because I can contribute by participating in this program and helping people to understand."


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