Phnom Penh (AsiaNews / Agencies) - "I lost my dignity." These were the words spoken this morning by Vann Nath, 63, before the International Court of Phnom Penh in the first trial against the Khmer Rouge. He is one of seven survivors of the notorious S-21, the prison run by comrade Duch where more than 17 thousand people died between 1975 and 1979. Of these seven, only three are still alive.
Vann Nath was saved thanks to his artistic abilities. He became the official portrait artist of Pol Pot, the leader of the Cambodian Maoist revolutionaries, but his talent did not spare him the same treatment as other prisoners. This morning he retraced the years of captivity in the presence of Kaing Guek Eav , 66, known as comrade Duch - the only Khmer Rouge leader to admit the crimes committed in the past and to ask forgiveness.
Vann Nath was arrested December 30, 1977 on charges of "counter- revolutionary activities." He entered the Tuol Sleng prison in January 7 1978, where he remained for one year, until the fall of the regime. "The conditions were inhuman - says Vann Nath - and food scarce”. The artist says that "one ration a day" was distributed consisting of "three coffee spoons of soup." The prisoners were handcuffed in rows of 20 or 30, and the hunger pangs so strong they were reduced to "eating insects hidden from guards. We ate food in the midst of the corpses, but we did not care, because we were like animals. I even thought - he continues - that eating human flesh would be a good meal”.
The former prisoner of the S-21 has painted several portraits of Pol Pot, the leader of the Khmer Rouge, responsible for the deaths of about two million Cambodians in his maddened attempt to create a socialist utopia based on agricultural production. Thousands of intellectuals and teachers were killed because they are considered "unproductive". "If I painted good pictures - adds Vann Nath - they were happy and I would survive."
In 2010 the trial of four other leading figures of the regime is due to begin. They are: Khieu Samphan, 77, former head of state, Ieng Sary, 83, Foreign Minister, Ieng Thirith, 76, wife of Sary and Minister for Social Affairs, Nuon Chea, 82, ideologue of the regime and nicknamed "Brother Number 2". Pol Pot, the bloodthirsty dictator known as "Brother Number 1" died April 15 1998, without ever having answered for the atrocities he committed.