Residents of Former Khmer Rouge Stronghold Visit S-21, KRT

Former Khmer Rouge soldier Keo Heng, 63, of Pailin province stood dazed yesterday on the grounds of Tuol Sleng prison, taking in the torture that happened there.

“I feel shock and have no words after learning Khmer killed Khmer. I never believed this,” Mr Heng said. “Now I see the real situation, I know it’s true.”

Mr Heng, a Pailin commune village chief, said that in the past people did not know about such mass killings, but were farmers digging fields or fighters who just focused on their jobs. Even after the regime collapsed in 1979, Mr Heng said that he did not believe people who claimed Democratic Kampuchea had killed their families.

Mr Heng was in Phnom Penh because the Extraordinary Chambers in the Courts of Cambodia brought more than 300 residents from the remote former Khmer Rouge stronghold in Pailin province to see Tuol Sleng and the tribunal, where four top leaders are due to be tried next year.

The families were the first group to be brought from a Khmer Rouge area to visit Tuol Sleng and the court, said Reach Sambath, the court’s chief of public affairs. Many were civilians and Khmer Rouge soldiers who defected with Ieng Sary in 1996, and some initially saw the regime as nationalistic and denied killings, Mr Sambath said.

However, travel and the area’s opening up meant people had begun to acknowledge the atrocities, he said. “They have started to believe. This visit will be a powerful message to believe more.”

Later a few members of the group taken to the courtroom asked court officials whether there would be more arrests.

Vincent de Wilde d’Estmael, senior assistant prosecutor, said that one leader was convicted, another four accused and five more suspects under investigation.

“For those people wondering if there will be more and more prosecutions, there will be no more after those cases are finished,” he said.


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