Comrade Duch, the only Khmer Rouge to have asked for forgiveness, has died

Duch, whose real name is Kaing Guek Eav, had converted to Christianity in the late 1990s. Under the Khmer Rouge he was the director of the Tuol Sleng prison, where at least 17,000 people were killed by torture, hardship or summary execution. In 2012 he was sentenced to life in prison by an international UN court.

Phnom Penh (AsiaNews) - Comrade Duch, a Khmer Rouge leader accused of crimes against humanity, died this morning at 5 am at the Khmer Soviet Friendship Hospital. He had been sick for several years. Duch (his nom de guerre; his real name was Kaing Guek Eav), was serving a life sentence after being sentenced in 2012 by an international UN tribunal. He is also the only Khmer Rouge member to have asked forgiveness for his crimes after becoming a Christian.

Comrade Duch was the head of Tuol Sleng prison (code name: S-21), where at least 17,000 people died of torture, hardship or summary execution during the Khmer Rouge regime (1975-1979). It is estimated that in the name of the "zero revolution" desired by Pol Pot, the supreme leader of the Maoist organization, nearly 2 million people have died in Cambodia.

Old regime soldiers, opponents, intellectuals and ordinary people were forced to leave the cities and go to work in the rice fields, which earned the name of "killing fields" in the race to create a "new" communist society.

Duch died at 77 years of age. As an adult, a math teacher, he joined the Communist Party and then joined the Khmer Rouge. In 1975, when the organization took Phnom Penh, he became the director of Tuol Sleng, which is now a museum of Khmer Rouge horrors (photo 2).

In 1979, a Vietnamese invasion drove out the Khmer Rouge and Duch and the leadership fled to the borders with Thailand. He lived under an assumed name until he was recognized in 1999. Ten years later a UN court sentenced him to 30 years. In 2012, after appealing, he was sentenced to life imprisonment.

In 2010, 4 other Khmer Rouge leaders were tried: Khieu Samphan, former head of state; Ieng Sary, Minister of Foreign Affairs; Ieng Thirith, Sary's wife and Minister for Social Affairs; Nuon Chea, ideologue of the regime and nicknamed "brother number 2".

Pol Pot, the bloodthirsty dictator known as "brother number 1" died on April 15, 1998, never having responded to the atrocities he committed. Of all these, only Comrade Duch admitted his sins and asked for forgiveness from the families of the killed.

For Duch, the awareness of the crimes committed and the request for forgiveness were the fruit of a long journey that began in 1996, when he embraced Christianity through his friendship with a Protestant pastor in a village near Battambang. After listening to the sermons of the Reverend Christopher Lapel, the former head of the S-21 prison - who had hidden his true identity, calling himself Hang Pin - asked to be baptized. “He totally changed after having embraced Christ - says the Rev. Christopher in an interview with Time in 1999 - moving from deep hatred to love. He said he never received love as a child and in his youth. By converting to Christ, love filled his heart".

At the time, Pastor Lapel, who lost several friends and relatives in the S-21 prison, had confided that he did not harbour feelings of hatred "for the one person who confessed to having played a role in the death machine" devised by the Maoist revolutionary fanatics.