Former Khmer Rouge prison chief appears at Cambodian genocide tribunal
by The Associated Press
A notorious Khmer Rouge prison chief was taken to the Cambodian genocide tribunal headquarters Tuesday to be questioned by judges investigating crimes committed during the regime's rule in late 1970s, an official said. Kaing Khek Iev, who headed the former Khmer Rouge prison S-21 in Phnom Penh, became the first suspect to be questioned by judges of the U.N.-backed tribunal, said tribunal spokesman Reach Sambath. The prison was a virtual slaughterhouse where suspected enemies of the ultra-communists were brutally tortured before being taken out to killing fields near the city. Reach Sambath said Kaing Khek Iev, also known as Duch, was driven in a car escorted by Cambodian government security forces and arrived at the tribunal headquarters shortly after 6:10 a.m. He was taken from a military prison, where he has been detained since 1999. Kaing Khek Iev, 62, is among five ex-Khmer Rouge leaders the tribunal's prosecutors have submitted to the co-investigating judges for further investigation, Reach Sambath said. "They (the judges) need to do an initial interview with him, but he has not been formally charged yet," Reach Sambath said. Kaing Khek Iev was being held in an air-conditioned room but not in the tribunal's detention facility, the spokesman said, adding that "it's up to the judges to decide" on further action against the suspect.Some 16,000 people were imprisoned at S-21, now the Tuol Sleng Genocide Museum. Only about a dozen of them are thought to have survived when the Khmer Rouge regime was overthrown by a Vietnamese invasion in 1979. Chum Mey, a prison survivor, said Tuesday he was delighted to hear Kaing Khek Iev had been brought to the tribunal. "I want to confront him to ask who gave him the orders to kill the Cambodian people," Chum Mey, 77, said. "I want to hear how he will answer before the court, or if he will just blame everything on the ghosts of Pol Pot and Ta Mok," he said, referring to the movement's notorious leader, the late Pol Pot, and his former military chief.Pol Pot died in 1998 and Ta Mok died in 2006.Senior-level colleagues, Nuon Chea, the movement's chief ideologue; Ieng Sary, the former foreign minister; and Khieu Samphan, the former head of state, live freely in Cambodia but are in declining health. Since his arrest by the government on May 10, 1999, Kaing Khek Iev was detained on war crime charges. It is unclear what charges he will face before the tribunal, set up jointly by Cambodia and the United Nations to try to seek justice for crimes committed during the Khmer Rouge's 1975-79 rule. Some 1.7 million people died from hunger, disease, overwork and execution as a result of the radical policies of the communists. On July 18, prosecutors submitted to the investigating judges the cases of five former Khmer Rouge leaders they recommend stand trial. The prosecutors did not reveal the identity of the five suspects, citing confidentiality rules.
Update: 1 August 2007
Justice at last for 'Comrade Duch'
After 1.7 million deaths and nearly 30 years, the first of Pol Pot's henchmen is charged with crimes against humanity - by Andrew Buncombe, Asia Correspondent, The Independent (UK)
He was a maths teacher turned torturer, a one-time college principal who oversaw the Khmer Rouge regime's interrogation and abuse of many thousands of innocent people. When the regime was ousted from power, having perpetrated one of the most brutal genocides in history, he converted to Christianity and returned to teaching. For decades it seemed Kaing Guek Eav would escape justice. But yesterday, in a historic move, the 64-year-old also known as "Comrade Duch" was charged with crimes against humanity by a UN-backed tribunal in Cambodia - the first of the "Killing Fields" regime's leaders to be brought before a court. The tribunal made up of international and Cambodian judges spent the day interviewing Duch, who headed the notorious Tuol Sleng prison in Phnom Penh, and then issued a statement that said: "The Co-investigating Judges of the Extraordinary Chambers in the Courts of Cambodia have charged Kaing Guek Eav, alias Duch, for crimes against humanity and have placed him in provisional detention."
The decision to finally charge Duch is a vital milestone in the efforts to bring the surviving Khmer Rouge leadership to justice. The reaction in Cambodia that Duch had alone been finally brought before the judges was telling. Chum Mey, one of just seven people from an estimated 20,000 known to have survived incarceration at the prison, said: "I want to confront him to ask who gave him the orders to kill the Cambodian people."Mr Mey, 77, said he was delighted the judicial process finally appeared to be working. But he said he also feared Duch may seek to shift responsibility to other senior Khmer Rouge leaders, now dead. "I want to hear how he will answer before the court, or if he will just blame everything on the ghosts of Pol Pot and Ta Mok," he added. The Khmer Rouge, headed by Pol Pot, who died almost a decade ago, swept to power in 1975. Almost immediately, the leaders of the movement, whose ideology mixed influences from Vietnam, China and France with a homespun nationalism, embarked upon a radical restructuring of the nation that, in effect, turned into genocide. Precisely how many people were killed or else died from starvation or disease is unknown. Estimates range from between one and three million, with most respected organisations opting for a figure of somewhere around 1.7 million. Given that Cambodia had a population of just seven million when the Khmer Rouge seized power, the genocide was proportionally one of the world's worst. At the heart the regime of horror lay an industrial-scale killing operation. Central to that was the concentration camp at Tuol Sleng, a former school in the centre of the capital, controlled by the Khmer Rouge's special branch known as the Santebal and overseen by Duch. At Tuol Sleng, known by the regime as S-21, Duch supervised the interrogations of thousands of people brought there. A list of rules for prisoners, still attached to the wall of the prison and poorly translated into English, warned them against committing a host of offences that would result in punishment. The 10th and final rule read: "If you disobey any point of my regulations you shall get either 10 lashes or five shocks of electric discharge." Under Duch's supervision scrupulous records were kept, and everyone brought in was photographed. Today, those black and white images stare from the walls of Tuol Sleng - now a museum - a genuinely haunting reminder of the brutality that took place.
In her book When the War Was Over: Cambodia and the Khmer Rouge, Elizabeth Becker wrote: "Duch oversaw a precise department of death. His guards dutifully photographed the prisoners upon arrival and photographed them at or near death, whether their throats were slit, their bodies otherwise mutilated, or so thin from torture and near starvation that they were beyond recognition. The photographs were part of the files to prove the enemies of the state had been killed. Duch even set aside specific days for killing various types of prisoners: one day the wives of 'enemies', another day the children, a different day, factory workers." Like many members of the Khmer Rouge, Duch had an academic background. As a student, he had excelled at maths and, after becoming a teacher, he rose to the position of deputy head of a regional college. He was jailed for his left-leaning views and opposition to the corruption that existed in Cambodia in the 1960s. By 1970, he had fled to the jungles and joined the guerrilla movement, running one of its prison camps for suspected enemies been before it had seized power. When the regime was forced from power, driven into the jungles of north-western Cambodia by an invading army from Vietnam in January 1979, Duch disappeared from public view, like most of the other senior figures. Using various adopted names, he lived in a Khmer Rouge stronghold until 1999 when he was discovered by journalists. By that time he had ended his association with the regime, had been converted to Christianity by missionaries and was working as a volunteer for the charities World Vision and the American Refugee Committee. When he was interviewed that year by journalists, Duch initially admitted participating in the activities at Tuol Sleng, saying he was deeply sorry for the killings and was willing to face an international tribunal and provide evidence against others. He subsequently told a government interrogator: "I was under other people's command, and I would have died if I disobeyed it. I did it without any pleasure."
Duch is one of five former Khmer Rouge leaders the tribunal's prosecutors have submitted to the investigating judges for further investigation. The names of the other four have not been released though there is widespread belief in Cambodia they are Nuon Chea, one of the movement's chief ideologues, Ieng Sary, the regime's former foreign minister, Khieu Samphan, the former head of state and Meas Muth, a son-in-law of Pol Pot's military chief Ta Mok, who died last year. They live openly in Cambodia, though some are in declining health. The effort to bring the Khmer Rouge to justice has been slow and arduous and not helped by previous support for the regime from both the US and China. A number of former regime officials are still members of the current Cambodian government. Professor David Chandler, a Cambodia expert from Monash University, Australia, said last night that although Duch had been in custody since 1999 and people expected him to be charged, the decision to proceed against him was very important. "This is a significant development and he was an important figure. He headed that terrible prison," he said. For a various reasons, Cambodia has been slow to confront its recent history. It was not until this summer that a school textbook was produced covering the 1975-79 rule of the Khmer Rouge.The $56m (£28m) tribunal was first recommended by the UN all the way back in 1999. It is expected that the judges will hear their first case next year.
Cambodia's government has given its permission for six local and foreign companies to develop tourist resorts worth up to US$627 million on islands off the country's coast. Commerce Minister Cham Prasidh, who is also vice chairman of the Cambodian Investment Board, signed agreements in principle with the companies last Friday, said Long Sakhan, president of one of the companies. She said her real estate firm, Vimean Seila Ltd., received permission to build a hotel and resort on a 420-hectare (1,037-acre) area of an island off Kampot province, 130 kilometers (80 miles) southwest of the capital Phnom Penh. She said another Cambodian company and four other foreign firms are planning to develop similar tourist resorts on four islands off the coast of Sihanoukville, a port 185 kilometers (115 miles) southwest of Phnom Penh. A Cambodian Investment Board official, speaking on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to speak to the press, confirmed the signing of the agreements, under which the companies will be able to lease areas on the islands for up to 99 years. The government has recently been promoting the country's coastal region as a new tourist destination. Early this year, it reopened an airport in Sihanoukville in a bid to attract tourists, who have so far mostly flocked to the centuries-old Angkor temples in Siem Reap province in the northwest. Last year, it granted permission for a Russian-run company to develop Koh Pos, or Snake Island, near Sihanoukville into a tourist resort with an initial investment of up to US$300 million.
The islands to be developed are: Koh Thas, Takeav, Aun, Bang, Koh Dekkuol and Koh Sas.
The tourism guide comes as figures from the Pacific Asia Travel Association show growing visitor arrivals for all three countries. International tourism visitor arrivals to Cambodia grew at a rate of 22% for the year to date while Vietnam and Laos were at 14% and 20%.