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Psychiatrist says Khmer Rouge trial can help heal

Written By vibykhmer on Tuesday, August 25, 2009 | 6:24 PM

By SOPHENG CHEANG,Associated Press Writer
AP - Wednesday, August 26

PHNOM PENH, Cambodia - A psychiatrist testified Tuesday that prosecuting the former leaders of Cambodia's Khmer Rouge can help ease the mental trauma of hundreds of thousands of victims who suffered under the brutal communist regime three decades ago.

Dr. Chhim Sotheara of the Transcultural Psychosocial Organization _ which promotes community mental health programs _ testified at the trial of Kaing Guek Eav, also known as Duch, who commanded a Khmer Rouge torture center when the group was in power from 1975-79.

A U.N.-assisted genocide tribunal is seeking justice for the estimated 1.7 million people who died in Cambodia from execution, overwork, disease and malnutrition as a result of the regime's radical policies.

Chhim Sotheara said according to his research, 14 percent of Cambodians, or about 800,000 people, suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder related to the Khmer Rouge's rule. The destruction of families and communities deprived people of their traditional pillars of psychological support, he said.

"The trial of the former Khmer Rouge leaders is an opportunity for the victims who had suffered and who have been traumatized for many years to overcome their trauma through justice," Chhim Sotheara told the tribunal.

He said the government should also hold public reconciliation forums to help heal the victims' pain.

Asked for comment by the judges, Duch (pronounced DOIK) agreed that people's psychological damage remained a problem.

"The consequences are tremendous and extensive and long-lasting. Even at this time, the consequences are still ongoing," Duch told the tribunal.

Duch is the first of five senior Khmer Rouge figures scheduled to face long-delayed trials and the only one to acknowledge responsibility for his actions. His trial, which started in March, is expected to finish before the end of the year.

He could face a maximum penalty of life imprisonment. Cambodia has no death penalty.


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