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.


, ,

  1. No comments yet.
(will not be published)
  1. No trackbacks yet.