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Past haunts former KRouge fighter

CAMBODIA: Stumbling across the photo of his twin brother who died more than three decades ago was the last thing former Khmer Rouge fighter Uch Sokhon expected on a visit to Cambodia’s genocide museum.

“I feel shocked,” the 53-year-old said, gently wiping the dusty glass frame holding a black-and-white image of his brother, immortalised at the age of 20. “But it was a long time ago.”

The picture is one of hundreds of mugshots of condemned prisoners on display at Tuol Sleng prison in Phnom Penh. Now a genocide museum, it was at the centre of the Khmer Rouge security apparatus between 1975 and 1979.

Some 15,000 inmates, including women and children, lost their lives and torture was routinely used to extract confessions from terrified prisoners at the facility, also known as S-21.

Sokhon and some 300 other people, mainly former Khmer Rouge supporters and fighters, recently travelled all night on buses from the northwestern Khmer Rouge stronghold of Pailin to tour the prison for the first time.

Pailin was one of the final refuges of the brutal regime, which was driven from power in 1979. Soldiers and officials fled to the remote region to re-group and try to battle the new government The trip was organised by the UN-backed war crimes court — which was set up in 2006 to bring ex-regime leaders to justice — and aims to increase awareness among Cambodians about the ongoing trials.

Confronting victims as well as former soldiers and cadres with the jail and the court’s work is a key part of bringing closure to the past, a court spokesman said.

“We believe it is easier for people to understand the mission of the tribunal when they see Tuol Sleng and the court with their own eyes,” Lars Olsen said.

Former Tuol Sleng prison chief Kaing Guek Eav, better known as Duch, was the first to face justice at the UN-backed court.

In a landmark ruling in July, the tribunal sentenced him 30 years in jail, though the case is now under appeal.

AFP

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