Khmer Rouge prison chief asks for forgiveness

31/03/2009 12:06:53 AM

PHNOM PENH: A former teacher accused of carrying out the murderous policies of Cambodia's Khmer Rouge has gone on trial as prosecutors opened their first case against the hard-core communists who turned the country into a killing field.

A UN-assisted genocide tribunal has charged 66-year-old Kaing Guek Eav, known as Duch, with committing crimes against humanity and war crimes, as well as torture and homicide. The tribunal is seeking to establish responsibility for the group's brutal 1975-79 misrule of the country under Pol Pot, the group's leader who died in 1998.

An estimated 1.7 million Cambodians died of starvation, medical neglect, slave-like working conditions and execution under the Khmer Rouge.

Duch ran the group's main prison, the notorious torture centre known as S-21, or Tuol Sleng. He is the first member of the Khmer Rouge to face trial for the regime's atrocities, and also the only one to express remorse for his role.

Duch's French lawyer, Francois Roux, said during a procedural hearing that his client wished "to ask forgiveness from the victims, but also from the Cambodian people. He will do so publicly".

Duch recorded the treatment of each prisoner in thousands of documents. One shows his signature on a list of prisoners, with the words "Kill them all".

"The Khmer Rouge were ruthless. Please don't free [their leaders] even if they admit their role," a tearful survivor, Om Chantha, said as the trial began.

She was one of hundreds of survivors or people mourning loved ones who queued at the court to see Duch face trial.

"I am excited to see Duch in court," said Ou Cath, who lost five brothers under the regime.

"Justice that I have been waiting for so long is coming."

Associated Press, Agence France-Presse

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