Khmer Rouge Official Faces Justice In Cambodia Three decades after the fall of the Khmer Rouge, the first trial for a leader of the extremist Maoist movement is finally getting under way. Kaing Guek Eav, better known as Comrade Duch, has been charged by a U.N.-backed tribunal with crimes against humanity and war crimes.
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Khmer Rouge Official Faces Justice In Cambodia

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Khmer Rouge Official Faces Justice In Cambodia

Khmer Rouge Official Faces Justice In Cambodia

Khmer Rouge Official Faces Justice In Cambodia

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The trial of one of the surviving leaders of the Khmer Rouge starts Tuesday in Cambodia, a day many thought would never come.

Five senior members of the ultra-Maoist regime are in custody awaiting trial for their role in the deaths of as many as 2 million Cambodians between 1975 and 1979. In the 30 years since, not a single Khmer Rouge leader has been brought to trial until now.

Phnom Penh's infamous Tuol Sleng prison was packed over the weekend with more tourists than usual, as the country prepared for Tuesday's trial of the man who once ran the Khmer Rouge torture center: Kaing Guek Eav, better known as Comrade Duch.

Cambodian guides rattled off gruesome statistics about the horror inflicted by the Khmer Rouge. An estimated 16,000 people were brought to the torture center during the Khmer Rouge rule. Fewer than a dozen survived.

Strong Case

Chum May, one of the survivors, sits on the floor of an empty classroom at the former high school-turned-torture center. He explains how his tormentors beat him, used electric shock and pulled out his fingernails, all in order to try to get him to confess to being a CIA spy.

Thirty years later, Chum May says, he wants to be the first into the courtroom Tuesday to see Duch.

"I was luckier than most," he says. "I survived. But the Khmer Rouge killed my wife and my four daughters. For them — and for all the others — I want to see Duch and the others pay."

The case against Duch is strong. The Khmer Rouge kept meticulous records at Tuol Sleng. Eyewitness accounts from survivors and former Khmer Rouge soldiers make it even stronger.

The head of Duch's security detail at the torture center back then is a man named Him Huy, who now lives in a modest home about an hour's drive from Phnom Penh.

Him Huy says one of his tasks at Tuol Sleng was to escort prisoners from the torture center to the killing fields at Cheung Ek. On several occasions, Him Huy says, Duch made him prove his loyalty by taking part in executions there.

"I remember one day in particular," Him Huy says, "when Duch asked me if I was a true believer in the revolution. I said yes. And he told me to prove it.

"So I took a metal rod and smashed it against the skull of one of the prisoners kneeling there. Then another Khmer Rouge came over and slit the man's throat to make sure he was dead."

Him Huy says he is convinced he would have been killed too had he not obeyed.

"I am a victim as well and want Duch to be punished," he says. "He killed my brother and he made me do things I can never forget."

Skepticism About Justice

But there's skepticism about whether the tribunal will be able to deliver the justice so many here crave. The court is a hybrid affair, with Cambodian and foreign judges, an uneasy marriage that has already yielded allegations of corruption and political interference by the Cambodian side.

Last month, the Canadian co-prosecutor wanted to add six more names to the list, but his Cambodian counterpart rejected that idea, saying it would do nothing to help achieve "national reconciliation." Some here say more suspects might embarrass the government, which includes many former Khmer Rouge, the prime minister, Hun Sen, among them. Many here believe no one but Duch will be tried.

"He will be the only one and the last," says Kay Kimsong, a Cambodian journalist whose skepticism is shared by many.

They believe the government is OK with making an example of Duch, but is secretly hoping the other four aging leaders will simply die before it is their turn. The government, of course, denies this, but few here seem to believe it.

Others, though, say some justice may be better than none.

'I Want Justice'

Vann Nath is another Tuol Sleng survivor who wrote a book about his experiences there. He is an accomplished artist who, just a few years ago, was deeply pessimistic that anyone would ever be tried. Now, Vann Nath says, he is looking forward to being in the courtroom Tuesday when Duch is brought in.

"I'm very happy and I'm very surprised," he says. "I wouldn't have thought this possible just a few years ago. For me, what happens to the other four isn't as important as what happens to Duch.

"My story is with him at Tuol Sleng. I want to see him punished, I want justice. And after waiting for so long, I'm starting to believe it just might happen."