Thursday, 16 July 2009

Former Khmer Rouge guard tells of 'killing field'

The Sunday Times

From correspondents in Phnom Penh
July 16, 2009

A MAN who worked as a guard at the main Khmer Rouge torture centre described to Cambodia's UN-backed war crimes trial how prisoners were executed at a "killing field".

Him Huy, 54, was giving evidence at the trial of his former prison chief Duch, who has admitted responsibility for overseeing the torture and execution of around 15,000 people held at Tuol Sleng prison, also known as S-21, during the late 1970s.

"All prisoners who were detained at S-21 would never be released. They only waited for interrogation and execution," Him Huy told the court.

The witness said prisoners were informed they were going "to a new home" and then trucked - sometimes in loads of up to 100 people - to Choeung Ek killing field, a former orchard on the outskirts of capital Phnom Penh.

"My force would guard those prisoners and the executioners would get ready at the pit. Guards would post at the gates and each prisoner would be walked to the pit to be killed," Him Huy said.

"When they were killed, first they were asked to sit at the edge of the pit, then they would be struck, then their throats would be slashed, then (guards) would take off their clothes and their handcuffs," he added.

Him Huy told the court that although he never saw Duch abuse a prisoner, the prison chief witnessed killings.

"I saw him (Duch) twice at Choeung Ek. He stayed there until all detainees were executed and then he would leave," Him Huy said.

The 66-year-old Duch, whose real name is Kaing Guek Eav, has accepted responsibility for his role governing the jail and begged forgiveness near the start of his trial for war crimes and crimes against humanity.

But he has consistently rejected claims by prosecutors that he held a central leadership role in the Khmer Rouge, and maintains he never personally killed anyone.

Led by Pol Pot, who died in 1998, the Khmer Rouge emptied Cambodia's cities in a bid to forge a communist utopia. Up to two million people died of starvation, overwork, torture and execution during the 1975-1979 regime.

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