Archive for category Khmer Rouge

Pol Pot ‘crueller than Gang of Four’

A former Khmer Rouge prison chief said regime leader Pol Pot was worse than China’s “Gang of Four” as he admitted further “cowardly” deeds at Cambodia’s United Nations-backed war crimes court on Thursday.

Duch – real name Kaing Guek Eav – is on trial for overseeing the torture and extermination of 15,000 people who passed through the regime’s Tuol Sleng prison, also known as S-21.

He told the tribunal that the regime’s hardline communist theory was worse than China’s cultural revolution, led by the so-called Gang of Four who orchestrated extremist social reforms over 10 years up to 1976.

“Pol Pot evacuated all the people from Phnom Penh city, smashed the former regime officials, smashed the capitalists, smashed the intellectuals. So only the peasant worker class remained,” Duch said.

The Khmer Rouge regime used the word “smashed” to refer to killing.

“This Gang of Four went one step forward, but Pol Pot went 10 steps forwards. Pol Pot’s theory was even crueller than the theory of this group of four,” Duch said.

Duch said his appointment as chairman of S-21 meant that his “duties became crimes against humanity by way of [overseeing] killing”, but said his early sympathy for the victims gave way to an instinct for self-preservation.

“I was compelled to go on,” he told the court.

“I was rather cowardly in that I did not contest but went on carrying out their orders and sometimes even exercised my power to ensure that myself and the lives of my family would be out of danger.”

Brought to justice

Earlier Duch told the court he knew the hardline communist regime would eventually be brought to justice.

He is charged with crimes against humanity, war crimes, torture and premeditated murder over the extermination of thousands of people between 1975 and 1979 at Tuol Sleng and the nearby “Killing Fields”.

However, he has denied prosecutors’ claims that he played a central role in the Khmer Rouge’s iron-fisted rule, and maintains he only tortured two people himself and never personally executed anyone.

Duch faces life in jail at the court, which does not have the power to impose the death penalty.

Khmer Rouge leader Pol Pot died in 1998 and many believe the UN-sponsored tribunal is the last chance to find justice for victims of the regime, which killed up to two million people.

The tribunal was formed in 2006 after nearly a decade of wrangling between the United Nations and the Cambodian government and is scheduled to try four other senior Khmer Rouge leaders.


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From the archive: Problem prince in uneasy alliance with Pol Pot

October 12, 1975: the symbolic head of state tells our correspondent of life in ‘year zero’ of the Khmer Rouge reign

William Shawcross

PRINCE SIHANOUK talked in the presence of a Khmer Rouge companion. He was sitting beneath a picture of himself accepting an AK-47 automatic rifle – the universal symbol of revolution – from the Khmer Rouge.

Since returning to Phnom Penh he has lived with his wife Monique in one of their old houses: “Food is brought to us every morning by the food service of the army. I have three little revolutionary cooks working for me and my aunt is teaching them cuisine. I sleep in the bed I once had made for my hero General de Gaulle. As I am very small, I am very comfortable. I just tell you this little detail for lady readers.”

Last month the Khmer Rouge agreed to let him back to Phnom Penh only after lengthy negotiations with his Chinese hosts and sponsors. Sihanouk was in Moscow in March 1970 when Marshal Lon Nol took over in a coup and he spent the next five years living in Peking.

He is something of a problem for Cambodia’s new communist rulers. His popularity in the countryside might be unsettling for them and he did once sentence them to death and secretly allow President Nixon to bomb the communist camps.

His talk gave some of the first clues about conditions in Phnom Penh since the Khmer Rouge marched into this city of 3m and emptied it of people. “The Khmer Rouge had to move them out because there was no meat, vegetables or rice,” he explains. “They had to be taken to the provinces the Khmer Rouge had liberated, where there was food for them.”

The dangers of epidemics and starvation on the forced march into the countryside he does not describe, but he believes Phnom Penh is now adjusting to its new reality.

Sihanouk confesses to an admiration for the speed with which the Khmer Rouge have radicalised the country and their plans for the capital: “Phnom Penh was a Sodom and Gomorrah under Lon Nol. Now it is spartan. No nightclubs, no bars, no taxi girls. Much calmer than before. There are no cars. Everyone walks on foot. We are creating a new society with one class, not one where some people die of overeating and others die of hunger.”

Asked if Cambodia, like North Vietnam, would demand US aid as reparations, he shouts: “We will never do so. Our blood is not to be commercialised. The US will have to pay for its crimes in the pages of history.”

“Before 1970 the free world used to call Sihanouk a dictator,” he says. “Now they are quite surprised. They don’t understand my role. Well, I’m like the Queen of England. I inspect schools and will receive ambassadors, etc, etc. That keeps me quite busy, you know. The ministers come and see me to ask my advice and give reports on their work.”

He was allowed to make one brief visit to the countryside. Asked about massacres, he says: “I was not there, but I do not think so. Fighting exists only in the minds of some ugly Cambodians in Thailand and Paris. They fight from their nightclubs.”

He still speaks, as when he was what he now calls “a playboy prince”, with wit, charm and enthusiasm that is often passion. Through his revolutionary ardour, loyally learnt in five courageous years in exile, the old jazz-playing film buff Sihanouk sometimes glitters a little sadly. Infuriated by a question about the fate of Lon Nol’s former cabinet ministers, he shouts again: “Why do you worry about these scum when so many good Cambodians have died? It’s not as if they were Marilyn Monroe or Rock Hudson.”

The impression Sihanouk conveys of his life in Phnom Penh, as the Khmer Rouge leaders wonder what to do with their old enemy, is a lonely one. A sad-eyed discontinued prince rattling around an empty palace in a scarred and empty capital. But he is extraordinarily resilient and persuasive and hopes his loyal, passionate nationalism alone may in time persuade his hosts that he can be used more effectively.

He wants to work for them so long as they need him: “I think they need me now. But I have told them that if the day comes when they no longer do so, I’ll be very happy to be quite free and live in my little house in France. I like the movies, you know. I shall be able to go to the movies.”

Prince Sihanouk was deposed six months after this interview. Pol Pot’s genocidal regime led to the death of more than 20% of Cambodia’s population. Sihanouk, now 86, returned as king in 1993 until his abdication in 2004


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Accused blames US for rise of Khmer Rouge

8/04/2009 12:26:37 AM

THE former chief of the Khmer Rouge's most notorious prison said his group would not have risen to power in the 1970s if it were not for the policies of the US president Richard Nixon and his top diplomat, Henry Kissinger.

Kaing Guek Eav, better known as Duch, made the comments before Cambodia's genocide tribunal during testimony charting his journey to revolution.

He also said he realised early on that the Khmer Rouge would be a disaster for Cambodia.

Duch's remarks on US influence in the region were part of his account of the years before the Khmer Rouge's 1975-79 regime. They echoed US critics, such as Noam Chomsky, who charged that Washington's policies ensnared Cambodia in the Vietnam War, destabilising the country to the point that the Khmer Rouge could take over.

Duch spoke as the UN-assisted tribunal began the second week of his trial for crimes against humanity and war crimes, as well as homicide and torture.

Duch, now 66, commanded Phnom Penh's S-21 prison, also known as Tuol Sleng. As many as 16,000 men, women and children are believed to have been tortured then executed there.

One of the judges, Jean Marc Lavergne of France, questioned Duch about everything from personal motives to the conditions at the guerillas' jungle camps.

Duch said he believed the Khmer Rouge would have died out by 1970 if the US had not supported Cambodia's military-led government following the 1970 coup d'etat that removed Prince Norodom Sihanouk from power and installed General Lon Nol.

Prince Sihanouk reacted by allying with the Khmer Rouge, his old foes, lending them respectability among many Cambodians, which allowed them to build up power during their 1970-75 war against the Lon Nol regime, Duch said.

“I think the Khmer Rouge would already have been demolished” by 1970, he said. “But Mr Kissinger and Richard Nixon were quick [to back the coup leader Lon Nol], and then the Khmer Rouge noted the golden opportunity.”

Washington had opposed Prince Sihanouk's neutralist policies because it felt they benefited the communists in Vietnam, who used Cambodian territory as a rear base. When the coup threatened their sanctuaries in eastern Cambodia, the Vietnamese communists responded by increasing military aid to the Khmer Rouge.

“I believe that it's true that the US bears some responsibility for the rise of the Khmer Rouge,” said Alex Hinton, a Rutgers University historian who attended Monday's hearing. “But we can't say that means it was responsible for the genocide.”

Dr Kissinger has always scoffed at claims that US intervention – including the massive bombing of the Cambodian countryside – contributed to the Khmer Rouge's rise.

Duch, who demonstrated a phenomenal memory, said he realised the Khmer Rouge would be a disaster for the country when he heard its leaders speaking publicly of popular reforms, but keeping secret their plans for a radical communist revolution.

He is the first senior Khmer Rouge figure to face trial, and the only one to apologise for his actions. Four more are in custody and to be tried over the next year.


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Cambodia begins long-awaited trial of Khmer Rouge leader

“Duch” is charged with crimes against humanity for his time as a prison commander under the regime.

A former Khmer Rouge prison commander went on trial Monday in Cambodia’s war-crimes tribunal, 30 years after the fall of a communist regime blamed for the deaths of an estimated 1.7 million people.

Prosecutors read out the charges against Kaing Guek Eav, known as “Duch.” He ran the SS-21 prison in Phnom Penh, the Cambodian capital, whose population was evacuated when the Khmer Rouge seized power in 1975. Duch is charged with committing crimes against humanity, war crimes, torture, and murder during four years as prison chief.

He spoke in court Monday only to acknowledge his identity and the charge sheet, which described how SS-21 was a death camp for known dissidents as well as a torture center used to extract confessions. Of the roughly 15,000 prisoners sent there, only a handful survived.

“I have already been notified of the charges against me,” Duch told the court, according to Agence France-Presse. “Before I was arrested by the military court, I was a teacher.”

A defense lawyer for Duch said he would be allowed to address the court later this week. Administrative hearings were held in February, but Monday began the first significant part of the trial. The war crimes tribunal is a hybrid Cambodian-international body based on French law that has so far cost $143 million and has attracted criticism for slow progress on trying suspects.

In his trial, Duch is likely to implicate his fellow cadre, who have denied all the charges and have sought to blame foreign powers for the killings. He cooperated fully with the investigating judges probing the grisly events at SS-21, a former school that is now a museum of torture.

“It’s important that someone who was a participant in the crimes – a key link in the chain of command – can set the record straight,” says Nic Dunlop, a British photographer who discovered Duch in 1999 while working in a refugee camp in Cambodia.

In addition to Duch, four other Khmer Rouge leaders have been indicted, including Nuon Chea, a deputy leader known as “Brother No. 2.”

The movement’s notorious leader Pol Pot died in 1998 in western Cambodia, where its forces retreated after Vietnam invaded in 1979. Today, many former Khmer Rouge live freely there under a government amnesty.

A convert to Christianity who has expressed remorse for his acts, Duch is by far the most straightforward to prosecute, says Mr. Dunlop, author of “The Lost Executioner,” a biography of Duch.

For a generation of Cambodians born since the Khmer Rouge’s rule, the bloody history of the period is blurry. Educators and parents often avoid the topic for fear of opening old wounds. Government officials, including Prime Minister Hun Sen, a former Khmer Rouge officer, have been leery of allowing a tribunal that would delve too deeply into the past.

This effectively limits the court’s scope, to the frustration of those who believe that a proper accounting for past abuses can help heal the nation’s wounds.

The maximum sentence that the tribunal can award is life imprisonment. Some of the detainees are elderly and in poor health, however, raising concerns that they may die before they face justice.



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