- The Washington Times - Tuesday, March 31, 2009

PHNOM PENH, CAMBODIA (AP) - Prosecutors vowed Tuesday to get justice for the 1.7 million victims of Cambodia’s Khmer Rouge regime, as they opened their case against the man accused of running the communist radicals’ torture machine.

The long-awaited trial against Kaing Guek Eav, better known as Duch, began Monday at a U.N.-backed genocide tribunal with a full reading of the 45-page indictment against him _ a litany of grisly accounts of the atrocities allegedly committed under the 1975-79 Khmer Rouge rule of the country they called Democratic Kampuchea.

Executioners threw victims to their deaths, bludgeoned them and then slit their bellies, or had medics draw so much blood that their lives drained away, according to the indictment.

“For 30 years, one-and-a-half million victims of the Khmer Rouge have been demanding justice for their suffering. For 30 years, the survivors of Democratic Kampuchea have been waiting for accountability. For 30 years, a generation of Cambodians have been struggling to get answers for their fate,” co-prosecutor Chea Leang said Tuesday,

“Justice will be done,” she said. “History demands it.”

The tribunal is seeking to establish responsibility for the deaths of an estimated 1.7 million from starvation, medical neglect, slave-like conditions and execution under the Khmer Rouge, whose top leader, Pol Pot, died in 1998.

Duch, now 66, commanded the group’s main S-21 prison, also known as Tuol Sleng, where as many as 16,000 men women and children are believed to have been brutalized before being sent to their deaths. He is charged with committing crimes against humanity and war crimes, as well as torture and homicide, and could face a maximum penalty of life in prison. Cambodia has no death penalty.

His job was to extract confessions of counterrevolutionary activity, but “every prisoner who arrived at S-21 was destined for execution,” the indictment said. Prisoners were beaten, electrocuted, smothered with plastic bags or had water poured into their noses.

Among the more lurid accusations was that children were taken from their parents and dropped from the third floor of a prison building to their deaths, and that some prisoners were bled to death

Chea Leang recalled the regime’s infamous maxim regarding its enemies: “To keep you is no gain, to destroy you is no loss.”

The prosecutor displayed historic photographs and video records from the Khmer Rouge years, which began with executions of loyalists of the previous regime and the brutal forced evacuation to the countryside of the capital’s 2 million residents within days of their April 1975 takeover.

Duch’s lawyer Francois Roux objected on legal grounds to showing some footage of Tuol Sleng after it was abandoned by the Khmer Rouge, but the judges rejected his argument.

Duch has been in detention since he was discovered in 1999 by British journalist Nic Dunlop in the Cambodian countryside, where he had been living under an assumed name.

Dunlop, who attended Tuesday’s hearing, said it was “surreal” to see Duch in a courtroom as victims of the Khmer Rouge watched, but it was difficult to gauge local interest in the trial.

“Whether it resonates beyond these walls is the big question, and if it doesn’t, we might as well be on another planet,” he said

The majority of Cambodia’s 14 million-plus population was born after the 1979 fall of the Khmer Rouge, and many struggle daily to make a living in the poverty-stricken country.

Motorcycle taxi driver Vong Song , 52, said that he hears people talking about the tribunal, but he’s too busy working to pay for his three children’s education to worry about it.

“Let the court and the government do it. For me, the important thing is earning money to support my family. That’s what I think,” he said.

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