Tuesday, November 20, 2007

Under lock and key

This is former Khmer Rouge military chief of staff Khem Nguon, who was charged last week with the abduction and murder of British de-miner Christopher Howes in 1996. Though its eleven years since the death of Christopher and his interpreter Houn Hourth, the slowly-turning wheels of Cambodian justice have finally caught up with Nguon and two other former Khmer Rouge guerrillas - Loch Mao and Chep Cheat- who are now behind bars awaiting trial at Prey Sar prison in Phnom Penh. Arresting Khmer Rouge leaders is the flavour of the month in Phnom Penh right now and though the Cambodian authorities have suspected his involvement in the Howes murder for many years, its only now that the climate is ripe for his arrest, even though he's been living in Phnom Penh and on the payroll of the defence ministry as a Brigadier-General in the Royal Cambodian Armed Forces. I will post more background details on Khem Nguon, also identified in some sources as Ngun, tomorrow. Photo by Ou Neakry/PPP.
I won't give it too many column inches, but history was made today when Comrade Duch appeared in public in front of the Khmer Rouge Tribunal Court in the full glare of tv, and hundreds of the world's press. Five of the top Khmer Rouge hierachy have now been arrested and charged with crimes against humanity, the latest being the former KR head of state, Khieu Samphan. The Tribunal is really clicking into gear now after so many delays and much feet-dragging, but it's happening and maybe, just maybe, some Cambodians will be able to take comfort that the surviving leaders are finally being brought to task for their horrendous crimes.

1 comment:

Andy said...

Khmer Rouge interrogator was "gentle man", says sister
By Ek Madra(Reuters)

Chief Khmer Rouge interrogator Duch is a "gentle man" who was only following orders when he ran the notorious S-21 torture centre during Pol Pot's reign of terror 30years ago, his sister said on Wednesday.

"My brother was a gentle man," Hong Kimhong, 50, told Reuters outside Cambodia's "Killing Fields" tribunal where Duch, charged with crimes against humanity, is seeking bail ahead of his trial expected next year.

"He worked under the Khmer Rouge regime. If he did not follow orders from above, he would have been killed," she said on the second day of the historic hearing held on the outskirts of the capital, Phnom Penh.

Duch, also known as Kaing Guek Eav, is the first senior Khmer Rouge cadre to stand before the U.N.-backed court set up to prosecute "those most responsible" for the 1.7 million deaths during the 1975-79 genocide, one of the darkest chapters of the 20th century.

There was little reaction from the grey-haired former schoolteacher, now 66, as prosecutors argued against his release in the nationally televised hearing.

"He bears at least some direct responsibility for the detention, torture and deaths of over 14,000 men, women and children," co-prosecutor Robert Petit told the five Cambodian and international judges.

"A lot of Cambodians are watching and listening to what is being said and done in this chamber. Most of them have been waiting for 30 years to see justice done," Petit said.

A born-again Christian, Duch has confessed in interviews with Western reporters that he committed multiple atrocities as head of the infamous Tuol Sleng, or S-21, interrogation centre.

At least 14,000 people deemed to be opponents of Pol Pot's "Year Zero" revolution passed through Tuol Sleng's barbed-wire gates. Fewer than 10 are thought to have lived to tell the tale.

Most victims were tortured and forced to confess to a variety of crimes -- mainly being CIA spies --before being bludgeoned to death in a field on the outskirts of the city. Women, children and even babies were among those butchered.

But Duch's sister did not believe "he was as brutal as the allegations say" and she said their family had also suffered under the Khmer Rouge.

"Ten of our family died of starvation under the regime. If he isn't released I don't think it will be a fair trial," she said.

Her comments were echoed by Duch's 30-year-old son, Hong Sivpheng.

"I want to see my Dad released. This is all about politics".