Monday 29 June 2009

Days of reckoning

One of the organisers of the Khmer Rouge’s mass murder campaign in Cambodia has come face to face in a Phnom Penh courtroom with one of its survivors. Kaing Guek Eav, alias Comrade Duch, ran the notorious Tuol Sleng “special interrogation centre” in the Cambodian capital, which was reserved for suspected “traitors” within the party.

Of 15,000 people held there, only seven are thought to have survived. One of them was Van Nath, who was spared because of his skill in painting portraits of Khmer Rouge bigwigs. He has now become one of Cambodia’s best known artists, and has used his skills to perpetuate the memory of the crimes committed by Pol Pot’s fanatical regime.

So far he has told the court about how prisoners were shackled and how a “meal” consisted of three teaspoonfulls of gruel. The 66 year old Duch has already admitted to his crimes, and begged forgiveness. Now a born-again Christian, he claims he was forced to run the interrogation centre.

Tuol Sleng – a high school until the Khmer Rouge turned it into a torture and murder factory – is now a genocide museum as Cambodia tries to come to terms with the terrible four years in the 1970’s when the Khmer Rouge killed up to 1.75 million people – a quarter of Cambodia’s entire population. (see also my blog of March 4th and A Disastrous History of the World)

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