Thursday, 23 July 2009

.Rouge prisoners were 'considered animals'

Prak Khan, former Khmer Rouge interrogator of S-21 or Tuol Sleng prison

By Suy Se (AFP)

PHNOM PENH — A former Khmer Rouge interrogator told Cambodia's war crimes court Wednesday that his boss at the regime's main torture centre indoctrinated staff to consider their prisoners as animals.

Prak Khan, 58, was testifying at the UN-backed court against prison chief Duch, who is accused of overseeing the torture and execution of around 15,000 people held at Tuol Sleng prison, known as S-21, in the late 1970s.

"At S-21, it was only Duch who indoctrinated our stance, our absolute stance against the enemies (prisoners) and that we had to take it seriously. We had to consider the enemies as animals," he told the tribunal.

Prak Khan's statements represent some of the trial's most damning testimony against Duch, whom he described as an enthusiastic leader who terrified staff.

In testimony Tuesday, Prak Khan told the court that Duch taught staff how to torture prisoners by using electric shocks, suffocation and inserting needles under their nails.

The witness Wednesday admitted his own involvement in crimes at S-21, after the prosecution showed a video in which he told prison survivor Vann Nath that he beat a young female prisoner with branches until she urinated herself.

Prak Khan never saw Duch torture any prisoners but said he did see the S-21 chief once enter an interrogation room while staff were abusing an inmate.

Duch, however, disputed some of Prak Khan's account, calling the witness "minor staff" at the prison and denying he participated in an interrogation with his subordinates.

"I think (this testimony) came out as a result of fear. At that time you were afraid, you were fearful of being arrested by me. But now you are afraid that you might be faced with the court as I am facing now," Duch 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 for war crimes and crimes against humanity.

But the defendant has consistently rejected claims by prosecutors that he held a central leadership role in the Khmer Rouge, and says 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 and torture or were executed during the 1975-1979 regime.

The tribunal was formed in 2006 after nearly a decade of wrangling between the UN and the Cambodian government. The court aims to complete Duch's trial by October, said a spokesman on Wednesday.

Four more former Khmer Rouge leaders currently in detention are expected to face trial next year at the court, and judges are expected to soon rule whether investigators should pursue six more regime cadres for prosecution.

However, the troubled tribunal faces accusations of Cambodian government interference and claims that local staff were forced to pay kickbacks for their jobs.

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