Khmer Rouge genocide trial opens in Cambodia
Last updated 2-19-09 at 12:45 p.m.
By Sopheng Cheang and Susan Postlewaite
The Associated Press
PHNOM PENH, Cambodia (AP) — The former head of a prison where thousands of Cambodians were tortured and killed for opposing the Khmer Rouge expressed remorse for his deeds as a genocide tribunal got underway on Feb. 17.
Kaing Guek Eav — better known as Duch — is charged with crimes against humanity. He is the first of five defendants who belonged to a close-knit, ultra-communist regime that turned Cambodia into a vast slave labor camp and charnel house in which at least 1.7 million people died of starvation, disease, and execution.
Duch oversaw the S-21 prison in the capital Phnom Penh — previously a school and now the Tuol Sleng genocide museum — through whose gates some 16,000 men, women, and children passed and only a handful survived.
Tuesday’s hearing of the U.N.-assisted tribunal was just procedural, and Duch did not speak to the court. Appearing alert in gray pants and a blue shirt, he listened intently to the proceedings. When he was led out of the courtroom, he pressed his hands together, turned, and gave the traditional gesture of respect with his head bowed.
Duch, 66, is the only defendant to have expressed remorse for his actions. He is accused of committing or abetting a range of crimes, including murder, torture, and rape.
“Duch necessarily decided how long a prisoner would live, since he ordered their execution based on a personal determination of whether a prisoner had fully confessed” to being an enemy of the regime, the tribunal said in an indictment in August.
On Tuesday, Duch voiced regret through his lawyer for what he had done and sought forgiveness.
“Duch acknowledges the facts he’s being charged with,” his French lawyer Francois Roux said at a press briefing after Tuesday’s court session. “Duch wishes to ask forgiveness from the victims but also from the Cambodian people. He will do so publicly. This is the very least he owes the victims.” (end)