Khmer Rouge Figure Accepts Responsibility for Executions

By Tim Johnston
Washington Post Foreign Service
Wednesday, April 1, 2009

PHNOM PENH, Cambodia, March 31 -- A prominent member of Cambodia's murderous Khmer Rouge regime publicly accepted responsibility and apologized in court Tuesday for his role in a system that killed one-fifth of the country's population more than three decades ago.

Kaing Khek Iev ran the Tuol Sleng torture center in Phnom Penh, formally known as Security Center 21, where an estimated 16,000 men, women and children were killed as part of the regime's attempt to create a perfect agrarian society.

"I am responsible for the crimes committed at S-21, especially the torture and execution," the defendant, better known by his nom de guerre Duch, told a packed court. The prosecution described how Duch's victims, most either disgraced members of the Khmer Rouge or their families, were tortured and then killed, most often with a blow to the back of the head.

From 1975 to 1979, more than 1.7 million people were killed or died of overwork, disease or starvation. Duch is being tried by a hybrid Cambodian-international court and is the first prominent member of the Khmer Rouge to be prosecuted.

Although Khmer Rouge leader Pol Pot died in 1998, four of his top lieutenants are expected to be tried next year. Rights activists and prosecutors hope to expand that number.

But Hun Sen, the Cambodian prime minister and a former brigade commander under the Khmer Rouge, said Tuesday that he did not want to see any more prosecutions.

"If as many as 20 Khmer Rouge are indicted to stand trial and war returns to Cambodia, who will be responsible for that?" he asked.

© 2009 The Washington Post Company