None of the bones found in a mass grave Thursday near the former Khmer Rouge prison, Tuol Sleng, belong to Americans allegedly killed by the Khmer Rouge, US Ambassador Kent Wiedemann said Sunday.
The confirmation came hours after forensics experts from the US examined the almost one dozen incomplete skeletons dug up by a Phnom Penh resident while preparing to extend his house into his front yard just 100 meters from the prison grounds.
US officials said there was never firm evidence that any of the bones belonged to American Michael Scott Deeds, who was captured by the Khmer Rouge in 1978 while sailing in the Gulf of Thailand and reportedly died at Tuol Sleng, according to a prison survivor.
But the discovery of the remains gave hope for confirmation to stories that Deeds, a Long Beach, California, resident, was killed and buried near the prison only days before the Khmer Rouge were forced from Phnom Penh by Vietnamese forces.
“This critical, initial [examination] puts an end to that,” Wiedemann said, explaining that if any of the remains were identified as belonging to a Caucasian, they would have immediately been flown to US’ Central Identification Laboratory in the US state of Hawaii for more tests.
“It’s disappointing. We would have liked to be able to identify and return to their families any US citizen killed by the Khmer Rouge,” Wiedemann said. “The search will go on I guess.”
RCAF General Pol Saroeun, who heads the Cambodian POW/MIA Committee, also said Sunday that none of the remains were those of the at least three Americans who went missing in Cambodia between 1975 and 1979 and are thought to have been killed by the Khmer Rouge.
The bones are believed to belong to Asian victims of the infamous prison, where an estimated 14,000 people were imprisoned during the late 1970s and ultimately killed by their captors. As many as 11 Westerners reportedly died in Tuol Sleng.
Wiedemann said that after looking at “signature skeletal characteristics” the US forensics scientists—one an anthropology expert and the other a dental specialist—were 100 percent sure none of the bones even belonged to a Caucasian.
“It’s very easy for them to first, tell whether the bones are animal or human and two, tell which of the three main racial groups the remains belong to,” Wiedemann said.
An initial attempt to find Deeds’ remains was made by his brother, Karl, in 1989 but failed when no positive identification could be made on several Tuol Sleng victims who were exhumed from their graves on the prison grounds.
Tuol Sleng’s director, Kaing Khek Iev, or “Duch,” reportedly said last year he was ordered to kill all the prison’s foreign prisoners and burn their bodies, according to The Associated Press.
The grave is one of approximately 450 burial sites already uncovered in Cambodia.