Cambodia and the Arc of History

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The first trial of a top Khmer Rouge official starts today, 30 years after the end of the brutal regime that took the lives of as much as a quarter of Cambodia’s population and sent hundreds of thousands onto the seas as refugees.

The first defendant is Kaing Guek Eav, 66, known as Duch, a born-again Christian, who was the commandant of the Tuol Sleng prison and torture house. He  sent thousands of people to their deaths in a killing fields.

Below is an excerpt from an excellent essay by François Bizot, one of the only Europeans to survive Pol Pot and also one of Duch’s detainees:

Duch was in charge of the jungle camp, both my jailer and my
prosecutor. I was kept in chains and interrogated daily by him.
Somehow, during the strange dialogue that began between us, he became convinced that I really was just a Frenchman who wanted to study Buddhist texts. Duch undertook to secure my release. My two Khmer assistants did not have the same good fortune: despite Duch’s promise to me, they were executed soon after I left the camp, as so many thousands were in the years to come under his meticulous supervision.

I did not see Duch again until 2003, in the military prison in Phnom Penh. Conditions there were rudimentary, but the general feel was not that of a jail. I remember that he had the same look of determination that he had had 32 years earlier, though the smile that he had occasionally flashed when he ruled over my fate was gone.

Read Bizot’s whole essay here.

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