Khmer Rouge prison chief charged

S-21 chief Duch first of Pol Pot's regime charged with crimes against humanity.

    Duch has confessed to committing multiple atrocities when he was head of Tuol Sleng prison [EPA]
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    The international panel, called the Extraordinary Chambers in the Courts of Cambodia, was set up to investigate crimes committed during Pol Pot's reign.
    Last month prosecutors recommended to the tribunal that five former Khmer Rouge leaders stand trial on charges of "crimes against humanity, genocide, grave breaches of the Geneva Conventions, homicide, torture and religious persecution".
    Duch, 65, unlike other former Khmer Rouge leaders, has been in a military prison since May 1999.
    He has confessed to committing multiple atrocities when he was head of the capital's notorious Tuol Sleng, or S-21 prison.
    He is expected to be a key witness in the trial of the other Khmer Rouge leaders.
    The Khmer Rouge used Tuol Sleng to torture suspected enemies before taking them out to the infamous "killing fields" near the city to be shot.
    Some two million Cambodians are estimated to have died of hunger, disease, overwork and execution during the Khmer Rouge's reign.
    Pol Pot, the leader of the Khmer Rouge, died in 1998. His military chief, Ta Mok, died in 2006.
    Nuon Chea, the Khmer Rouge's chief ideologue, Leng Sary, the former foreign minister; and Khieu Samphan, the former head of state, are alive and free, but in declining health.
    Lone woman survivor

    At least 14,000 people were imprisoned at what is now the Tuol Sleng Genocide Museum.
    Fewer than a dozen are believed to have lived to tell the tale.
    Chum Meth, 49, is one of eight known survivors of S-21 and the only woman.
    In an exclusive interview with Al Jazeera, she told Hamish Macdonald that for almost 30 years she had been harbouring the secret that she had once been a prisoner at S-21.
    She spent two weeks inside the prison and her grainy mug-shot now appears in the prison museum.
    But until recently, the mother of three who works as a cook at a local school had not even told her husband her secret.
    "My memory from when I was inside the prison is of hearing the sounds of pain, I could hear them torturing the bodies.
    "When I think about it I am nearly sick, I feel like I have a fever. It is very painful for me to talk about."
    Her testimony may prove crucial in the trial of the senior Khmer Rouge figures.

    SOURCE: Al Jazeera and agencies


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