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Khmer Rouge victims pray at prison before historic verdict

Tuesday 27 July 2010

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All the versions of this article: [English] [français]

27.07.2010

Phnom Penh, July 25, 2010 - About 150 Khmer Rouge victims gathered at the site of a notorious regime prison for a Buddhist prayer ceremony Sunday, on the eve of the first verdict at Cambodia’s UN-backed war crimes court.

Survivors of the late 1970s regime and relatives of its dead, led by five Buddhist monks, knelt at Tuol Sleng in tribute to the estimated 15,000 people who were tortured and murdered at the prison under its chairman, Duch.

Duch, whose real name is Kaing Guek Eav, was due to hear his verdict Monday on charges of war crimes, crimes against humanity, premeditated murder and torture after nine months of proceedings last year.

Under an overcast sky in the courtyard of the prison, which now serves as a genocide museum, deputy president of the Victims Association of Democratic Kampuchea Chum Sirath called on the souls of the dead to come and hear the verdict.

"When you have heard the verdict, we ardently pray for your souls to enjoy peace and happiness that was denied to you during the time you were on this earth," he said.

The Khmer Rouge, led by "Brother Number One" Pol Pot, emptied Cambodia’s cities during its 1975-1979 rule, exiling millions to vast collective farms in a bid to take society back to "Year Zero" and forge a Marxist utopia.

Up to two million people were executed in the notorious "Killing Fields" or died from starvation and overwork before a Vietnamese-backed force toppled the regime. Khmer Rouge leader Pol Pot died in 1998.

Tuol Sleng, also known as S-21, was the centre of a network of 198 secret torture centres around the country and is one of the most visible symbols of Khmer Rouge brutality that continues to haunt Cambodia.

Duch last year repeatedly used his court trial to apologise, but the former maths teacher, 67, surprisingly asked to be released in the final day of hearings on grounds that he was not a key leader in the regime.

Other Khmer Rouge members awaiting trial next year are "Brother Number Two" Nuon Chea, former head of state Khieu Samphan, ex-foreign minister Ieng Sary and his wife Ieng Thirith, who was the minister of social affairs.

The verdict announced on Monday, July 26, condemned Douch to 30 years of jail. His lawyer already told the media that he will appeal the decision.


Source: The Montreal Gazette

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