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Khmer Rouge crimes too big to hide, former torture centre boss says

Written By vibykhmer on Wednesday, September 16, 2009 | 9:33 PM

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Asia-Pacific News
Sep 16, 2009

Phnom Penh - Comrade Duch, the feared former head of the Khmer Rouge's main execution centre, told Cambodia's UN-backed war crimes court Wednesday that the numerous crimes committed under the regime were too big to hide.

'The elephant cannot be covered by a rice basket,' Duch, whose real name is Kaing Guek Eav, said on the final day of testimony.

Around 2 million people are thought to have died from execution, overwork and starvation under the Khmer Rouge regime, known as Democratic Kampuchea, which ruled Cambodia during 1975-79.

Duch, the former head of the Khmer Rouge's execution centre S-21, is being tried for crimes against humanity and grave breaches of the Geneva Convention. At least 15,000 people were tortured and executed at S-21 in the 1970s. Just a handful survived the prison.

The final day of testimony saw Duch answer character questions from the prosecution and his defence lawyers. His defence has sought to portray him as a man following orders, yet willing to take responsibility for those actions.

William Smith, the interim international co-prosecutor, suggested to Duch that he had remained with the Khmer Rouge movement after 1979 because he still believed in it. He said psychologists who had assessed Duch had felt he was still committed to the revolution.

'The experts' analysis took me by surprise, and I don't agree with it,' said Duch, who was arrested in 1999.

Duch told the court the Cambodian Communist party was responsible for the ruin of the nation in the 1970s. As a member of that party, he said, he took full responsibility and sought forgiveness.

'The only way to survive was to fulfil the duties assigned to us ... so I tried to survive on a daily basis,' he told the court of his actions as S-21 chief when he passed confessions up to his superiors before awaiting their orders to 'smash,' or kill, those who had confessed. 'Yes, you can say I am a coward.'

Duch again stressed that he did not personally arrest anyone, and said the ideology of the time meant that people arrested and sent to S-21 'must be seen as enemies and smashed because they were enemies of the party.'

The 72 days of proceedings in Duch's trial have heard horrific testimony from victims and former staff of S-21, as well as harrowing stories from surviving family members of people who were executed under Duch's command.

In a question framed deliberately to echo the prosecution's outline made earlier this year, Duch's foreign defence lawyer, Francois Roux, asked him: 'So, do you admit that in reality you were the man who, enjoying the trust of his superiors, implemented in a devoted and merciless way, the persecution of the Cambodian people?'

'Yes, I completely admit [that],' Duch replied.

Responding to a question from Roux, Duch later said that any of the victims - some of whom are not convinced his expressed remorse is genuine - were welcome to visit him in jail.

'I open the door to them emotionally, and most importantly I would like to express my inner emotion of my guilty admission so they can see my true self,' Duch replied.

Duch told the court that by late 1978, shortly before the Vietnamese-backed invasion that overthrew the regime, he was sure the revolution to which he had dedicated his life would fail.

'I joined the revolution to liberate my people and show gratitude to my parents and nation,' he said. 'By the end the country had fallen into complete tragedy, and more than 1.7 million perished.'

In a final flourish, Roux showed the court a video of Duch on a judicial visit to S-21 in February last year. Roux said it was the first time in the history of international criminal justice that an accused person had returned to the scene of their crimes.

In the video Duch can be seen fighting back tears and apologizing to two of the survivors of S-21 as he read out a prepared statement.

Duch, who converted to Christianity in 1996, said: 'I was determined to go in order to kneel down and seek forgiveness of those dead souls - as a Christian I had to do it.'

Sentencing is expected to be handed down next year. Cambodia does not have the death penalty, so Duch, 67, faces a maximum term of life in prison.

Four former Khmer Rouge leaders are in detention awaiting trial once Duch's trial concludes. Judges are investigating a further two.

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