Sunday, March 29, 2009

Duch's lawyer declares he is ready to describe events at interrogation centre

Mon, 30 Mar 2009
3 News (New Zealand)

On the eve of the resumption of the trial of the first suspect to face a court for crimes allegedly committed during Cambodia's bloody Khmer Rouge regime, Gaing Kuek Eav's lawyer says his client is ready to describe what happened at the interrogation centre he ran in Phnom Penh.

Gaing Kuek Eav - better known as Duch - has been charged with crimes against humanity, murder, torture and war crimes.

Francois Roux says the answers Duch gives will go some way to helping victims of the regime understand what happened to them and their country in the 1970s.

As Duch prepares to face a court on Monday hundreds of students from outside Phnom Penh have been taken on a tour of the prison - S21, which is now a museum, to educate them in their own history.

Many young Cambodians know very little of what their parents suffered, as it is not taught in schools. The visit was an initiative of volunteers from the US Peace Corps.

Unlike four others who are awaiting trial, Duch, as he's better known, is admitting his guilt and apparently intends to tell all.

Lawyer Francois Roux says he believes Duch's testimony will go some way to helping victims understand what happened and why, during those bleak and brutal years.

But as older Cambodians await answers to long-festering tragedies and sorrows, some Cambodians - born after the collapse of the regime - are only just discovering that anything evil happened at all at that time.

The history of the Khmer Rouge period is not taught in schools so many people grow up knowing very little about it, or even dismissing it as mere stories or exaggerations.

It was to shake that belief that around 200 young Khmer students were brought on Sunday to witness for themselves the evidence of the crimes committed on Duch's orders at S21 prison.

The students looked at the torture implements used on his victims, and at the faces of the victims themselves; hundreds of photographs of the doomed inmates line the walls of the former prison in Phnom Penh, now a museum.

There are also displays of the victims' skulls.

"Sometimes before when my father told me I never believed him. I just said that he just made a story to tell me. But now I believe because I saw the evidence, a lot of evidence, and I feel sorry," said Oeng Kim Heak, one student visitor to the museum.

S21 - also known as Tuol Sleng - was a top secret facility mainly used to interrogate cadres suspected of treachery.

Prisoners were tortured until they confessed to working for foreign powers, then they were executed, as were their families who were often arrested with them.

Many, if not most, of the confessions were wild fantasies, made up under extreme torture in the hope of pleasing and pacifying their tormentors.

The visit to S21 was organised by volunteers from the US Government's Peace Corps, and the Documentation Centre of Cambodia which works to collect evidence of the former regime's atrocities.

The aim, they said, was to teach Cambodians their own history and give them a greater awareness of their past and present so they can rebuild its future. Some of the students will attend Duch's trial next week.

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