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    » 04/02/2009, 00.00

    CAMBODIA

    Comrade Duch, from Khmer Rouge to Christian, alone to ask for forgiveness



    Accused realised the enormity of his deeds when he embraced Christianity. For PIME missionary the demand for forgiveness is a “something new” in Cambodian history as people try to see themselves as part of a greater whole.
    Phnom Penh (AsiaNews) – Kang Kek Iew, also known by his nom de guerre Comrade Duch, a former head of Security Prison 21 or S-21, has asked for forgiveness, expressing his “heartfelt sorrow” to the people of Cambodia for his crimes. In doing so he is taking a step that represents a major change in a country still inhabited by divisions, whose people are still reticent to face up to the massacres perpetrated by the Khmer Rouges when they were in power.

    Comrade Duch, who ran the infamous S-21 prison where some 17,000 Cambodian died between 1975 and 1979, is the only Khmer Rouge leader to have admitted his role in torturing and killing civilians.

    His step follows a personal journey that led him to convert to Christianity in 1996 after befriending a Cambodian-born Protestant clergyman, a journey very different from that of Pol Pot, the fanatical ideologue and leader of the Khmer Rouge regime, who died without appearing before the court, or the other four leading figures of the former Maoist regime on trial—Khieu Samphan, Ieng Sary, Ieng Thirith and Nuon Chea—who have also not owned up to their crimes.

    Hun Sen, the current prime minister of Cambodia, is also a former official of the Khmer Rouge regime, and has dismissed with scorn any suggestion that he should appear before the tribunal, saying that before that ever happens he would see it starve of money.

    Kang Kek Iew’s hearing, which was broadcast live across Cambodia, was closely followed by Cambodians, generating all sorts of reactions. Many excused the guilt of the past, simply saying that everyone was just following orders.

    For Duch coming to grips with his crimes and his demand for forgiveness began in 1996 when he became a Christian after befriending a Protestant clergyman in a village near Battambang.

    Listening to Rev Christopher LaPel’s sermons, the former head of Prison S-21, who had concealed his true identity under the name of Hang Pin, expressed a desire to be baptised.

    “He changed totally after receiving Christ—180 degrees,” said LaPel in an interview to Times magazine. “He turned from hatred to love. He said he had never felt love in his childhood or when he grew up. So when he turned to Christ, love filled his heart.”

    In retrospect, there were signs pointing to Duch's real identity. “Before he received Christ, he said he did a lot of bad things in his life,” LaPel recalls. “I don’ know if my brothers and sisters can forgive the sins I've committed against the people,” Duch said.

    LaPel lost friends and family in S-21 too, but said he had “no personal hatred for the only member of the Khmer Rouge to have confessed a role in the movement's killing machine.”

    Fr Alberto Caccaro, a PIME missionary with ten years in Cambodia, said that Comrade Duch’s confession is even more significant now.

    “Acknowledging one’s guilt is how we see ourselves before God,” he said. “Many people were positively surprised by his confession, which strikes a different note from the rest.”

    Cambodians have in fact not yet begun the process of reviewing the history of what happened in the 1970s when almost two million people died under the Khmer Rouges before the latter were driven from power. After that Cambodians turned the page in favour of modernity and “focused solely on material interests and individual well-being.”

    “People have a hard time seeing themselves as part of a greater whole,” Father caccaro said. “Even in everyday language they tend to hide guilt. Admitting one’s responsibility is a no no—people would rather choose self-indulgence.”

    Even thought bringing Khmer Rouge leaders to trail “will not remake Cambodian society,” “individual actions” like that of comrade Duch can be the “starting point for a more in-depth look at history.”

    At the same time “we should not turn comrade Duch into some kind of saint,” said the missionary, “but his personal story, the timing of his confessions, and the realisation of the crimes he committed are something new for Cambodia.”

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    See also

    04/02/2008 CAMBODIA
    Khmer Rouge ‘Brother Number Two’ before the judges
    Nuon Chea was Pol Pot’s deputy and the ideologist to a regime that caused the death of two million people. Before his appearance in court he challenged his detention demanding to be released on bail.

    03/02/2012 CAMBODIA
    Khmer Rouge Tribunal: Appeals court gives life term to Comrade Duch
    At first instance the Director of the S-21 prison, where tens of thousands of Cambodians died, had been sentenced to 30 years. For judges crimes committed "worst in human history." He is the only one who has admitted his guilt. Hundreds of survivors of the regime have heard the reading of the verdict.

    16/02/2009 CAMBODIA
    Trial of Khmer Rouge leaders will not solve country’s problems, says PIME missionary
    Comrade ‘Duch’ goes on trial tomorrow. For Fr Alberto Caccaro the International Tribunal is just a “business”, bringing money into a country where there is no “political will” to re-examine the history of the Pol Pot regime. The Church is trying to make its contribution to the country’s “cultural debate” and improve its “education”.

    29/06/2009 CAMBODIA
    Khmer Rouge tribunal: the testimony of a survivor
    Vann Nath describes the tragic conditions of detainees in Tuol Sleng prison, where 17 thousand Cambodians were massacred. Of the seven survivors, only three are still alive. Comrade Duch, director of the prison also present. He is the only Khmer Rouge leader to seek forgiveness.

    23/11/2009 CAMBODIA
    Phnom Penh: “useless” trial of “Comrade Duch” nears end
    Prosecutors and defence lawyers are set to give their closing arguments before a sentence is pronounced. Co-prosecutor stresses the proceedings’ success. Source tells AsiaNews that the trial will “not produce any results”. The government is concerned about an analysis of the facts because it could “threaten social peace.”



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