Thirty years on, Khmer Rouge torturer faces justice

Sat Feb 14, 2009 11:09pm EST
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By Ek Madra

PHNOM PENH (Reuters) - Thirty years after the fall of Cambodia's "Killing Fields" regime, 78-year-old Chum Manh will finally see his torturer stand trial.

Nearly every Cambodian family lost loved ones during the 1975-79 period of Khmer Rouge rule that claimed an estimated 1.7 million lives.

Despite committing genocide in one of the darkest chapters of the 20th century, none of Pol Pot's surviving henchmen ever faced justice. Until now.

The U.N.-backed Khmer Rouge tribunal opens its first trial on Tuesday when 66-year-old Duch, also known as Kaing Guek Eav, faces charges of war crimes, crimes against humanity, torture and homicide while he ran the S-21 torture center.

"I want to ask him why he killed his own people, and why did his men torture me?" Chum Manh told Reuters during a visit to the Phnom Penh high school that was turned into the notorious S-21 prison during Pol Pot's regime.

Chum Manh was among only 14 survivors from the jail, where an estimated 16,000 prisoners were tortured before being clubbed to death in the Cheoung Ek "Killing Fields" outside the capital.

"What motivated them to commit such heinous crimes?" Chum Manh asked as he surveyed his old cell in the former prison. Now the Tuol Sleng Genocide Museum, the building is largely preserved as it was when the Khmer Rouge jailers were driven out in 1979.

"YEAR ZERO"   Continued...

<p>Former Khmer Rouge S-21 prison chief Kaing Guek Eav, better known as Duch, stands in a courtroom during a pre-trial in Phnom Penh December 5, 2008. REUTERS/Tang Chhinsothy/Pool</p>