Duch: Back at S-21
Former Khmer Rouge leader to 're-enact' crimes for judges
Ian MacKinnon, south-east Asia correspondent
Friday February 22 2008
The Khmer Rouge's chief interrogator who headed the notorious prison where 14,000 Cambodian men, women and children met their deaths is to return to the scene of his alleged crime next week to stage a ghoulish "re-enactment".
The extraordinary scene will see 65-year-old Kaing Guek Eav, known as Duch, guide investigating judges from Cambodia's UN-backed genocide trial through the Tuol Sleng torture centre almost three decades after he fled the advancing Vietnamese troops that ended the Khmer Rouge's four-year reign of terror.
Several of only seven people who survived their incarceration in the former school in Phnom Penh's suburbs will join the party next Wednesday.
Afterwards they will give taped evidence in a "confrontation" with their Khmer Rouge jailer at the tribunal's headquarters.
A day earlier, Duch, who is charged with crimes against humanity along with four other senior Khmer Rouge leaders, will be taken to the Killing Fields of Choeung Ek on the capital's outskirts where most Tuol Sleng inmates were murdered and buried in shallow graves.
Duch, who was a maths teacher before joining the revolution to establish a peasant utopia, will explain to the French co-investigating judge, Marcel Lemonde, and his Cambodian counterpart, You Bun Leng, the details of what happened there in the years after 1975, when up to 1.7 million people died.
The first war crimes trials are due to begin later this year, confounding the fears of many of the Khmer Rouge's victims that the communist ideologues responsible for killing a quarter of the population through torture, execution, disease and starvation might never be brought to justice.
Almost a decade of wrangling over the ground rules governing the tribunal and many petty disputes between the Cambodian judges and lawyers and their international counterparts had threatened to kill off the process before it started.
But the arrests of four senior Khmer Rouge leaders, and the detention by the tribunal of Duch, who was already in military custody, has seen the process move swiftly forward.
The defendants have unsuccessfully appealed their detention orders and have even been confronted by their victims in emotional court testimony.
The re-enactment is part of the judges' investigative process to gather evidence against Duch, who has acknowledged his role in the Killing Fields after finding Christianity.
However, he contends that he was merely following Pol Pot's "verbal orders from the top".
Duch will be accompanied by his lawyers as he walks the judges around the two sites in private. Both serve as a memorial and museum to the dead but will be closed to the public during the re-enactment.
The Killing Fields memorial at Choeung Ek is a glass tower of piles of victims' skulls discovered in the surrounding shallow pits. Duch allegedly sat under a tree watching as Khmer Rouge executioners murdered their victims.
Classrooms at Tuol Sleng remain much as they were left in 1979, with metal-framed beds to which victims were chained before being electrocuted to make them confess to non-existent crimes, invariably of being CIA agents.
Paintings by one Tuol Sleng survivor, Van Nath, graphically portraying other tortures carried out there, adorn the walls of some rooms. The vividly-coloured oils sit beside the stark black-and-white photographs of the thousands brought to the prison.
"For the re-enactment Duch will be assisted by his lawyer," said Lemonde. "This is a normal investigative action, the aim of which is to clarify the declarations by each of the participants, using photos, audio-visual recordings and 3D reconstructions."
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