Tuesday, February 03, 2009

Symbolic killer of Cambodia 's genocide to face trial 30 years later (FOCUS)

By Puy Kea
PHNOM PENH , Feb. 2 KYODO -- The notorious Khmer Rouge prison jailer commonly known as Duch goes to trial at a hybrid international court in the next two weeks in Cambodia for his role in the systematic genocide of Cambodians 30 years ago.
The U.N.-backed Khmer Rouge tribunal set Feb. 17 as a date for the initial hearing on Kaing Guek Eav, better known as Duch. He is one of five Khmer Rouge figures being detained at a detention center of the Extraordinary Chambers in the Courts of Cambodia.
Although Duch is considered a symbolic killer as he was in charge of the most prominent of many prisons established in Cambodia during the Khmer Rouge regime, some Cambodians question why he will be the first to be tried.
The answer is simple -- Duch was the first one arrested in 1999 and has been detained at and investigated ever since.
He was transferred to the ECCC in 2007 and was charged with crimes against humanity and war crimes.
The other four suspects were arrested and charged with war crimes and crimes against humanity only in late 2007.
They are Nuon Chea, better known as Brother No. 2 in the Khmer Rouge hierarchy after Pol Pot, Khieu Samphan, who was its head of state, Ieng Sary, who was foreign minister, and Ieng Sary's wife Ieng Thirith, who was social affairs minister.
Duch, 66, was chief of Tuol Sleng Prison in central Phnom Penh , code named S-21, from early 1976 through 1979.
Scholars and historians claim Duch was responsible for the deaths of more than 13,000 Cambodians while the prison was under his command.
Beyond the question ''Why Duch first?'' some also wonder why the court is going after someone who was not a senior Khmer Rouge leader.
''Duch's hearing will generate more questions than clarifications,'' said Chhang Youk, director of the Documentation Center of Cambodia, a nonprofit organization that archives Khmer Rouge atrocities.
Some others, however, support the court's move, saying it is finally on track to long-awaited justice for the victims.
Chum Mey, one of only three surviving victims from Duch's time at the S-21 torture center, said he will be satisfied only once Duch and the other four are tried and convicted.
Chum Mey, 76, who was jailed and tortured for more than three months from late 1978 until the Khmer Rouge regime collapsed on Jan. 7, 1979, said he is ready to question Duch during the upcoming trial on why he committed the crimes and who was behind the orders.
Chum Mey said he had his toenails pulled out, was beaten ''uncountable'' times with rattan canes and subjected to electric shocks while in Tuol Sleng.
He added the tortures were designed to force confessions of spying for the U.S. or then Soviet Union intelligence services even though many prisoners did not even know those agencies existed.
The co-investigating judges of the ECCC have said that of the more than 13,000 men, women and children detained at Tuol Sleng prison only a handful are still alive.
The judges have also said Duch has ''recognized his responsibility.''
He has declared S-21 ''was run directly by the Central Committee,'' the judges have said.
Duch added he primarily dealt directly with Son Sen and ''Person J,'' both of whom he believed to be acting for the leadership.
Son Sen, minister of security in the Khmer Rouge regime, ''perished'' in 1997, apparently killed on the order of Pol Pot who accused Son Sen of being a traitor.
It is unclear to whom ''Person J'' refers, but some researchers suggest it could be Nuon Chea.
According to the judges, Duch has regularly expressed remorse for the victims and their families and also for the S-21 staff under his command.
''He stated that none of his personnel volunteered, or were proud of what they had done, but rather were terrorized and constantly in fear for their lives,'' the judges have said.
Pol Pot, believed the mastermind of the ''Killing Fields,'' denied until his death in 1998 he was responsible for the deaths of 1.7 million Cambodians under his rule from 1975 to 1979.
He claimed number of deaths was ''fabricated'' by ''outside enemies.''
Similar denials have come from the four Khmer Rouge leaders who are charged and detained at the ECCC facilities.
Duch, however, has said he spoke out in 1999 because ''it was impossible not to tell the truth about S-21'' after he had heard ''Pol Pot denied the existence S-21 and claimed it was an invention of the Vietnamese.''
Duch was arrested in May 1999, less than a month after he was found in Cambodia 's northwestern Battambang Province by an American journalist who and obtained a partial confession from him.
Duch said, ''I joined the Khmer Rouge in order to liberate my people and not to commit crimes,'' but ''from 1971 onwards, when I was forced to supervise M-13 (a security organ), I became both an actor in criminal acts and also a hostage of the regime.''
Duch also said that on Aug. 15, 1975, Son Sen called him to a meeting at the Phnom Penh Train Station to plan the establishment of S-21.
S-21 was unique in the network of security centers given its direct link to the Central Committee and its role in the detention and execution of cadres of the Communist Party of Kampuchea.
While millions of Cambodians still want to see justice, many also express disappointment that the three Khmer Rouge accused of being the architects of the brutal regime -- Pol Pot, Son Sen and Ta Mok, better known as ''Butcher'' -- are already dead.
Of the four remaining senior leaders, Ieng Sary, 85, and Nuon Chea, 83, are watched by doctors daily because their health is precarious, and Kheiu Samphan and Ieng Thirith are said to be frail.
The ECCC has not said when those four will be tried and some Cambodians fear only Duch will ever be prosecuted, the others dying before they are brought to trial.
KyodoFebruary 02, 2009

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