The head of an infamous Khmer Rouge security center and execution site says he was ordered to destroy the prison and kill all remaining internees on the eve of the Vietnamese military's arrival in Phnom Penh in January 1979.
Kaing Guek Eav, better known as Duch, said Wednesday in his second day of testimony at the Khmer Rouge tribunal that he also was ordered by Pol Pot's second-in-command, Nuon Chea, to kill families of those held by the internal security department.
The nine-day testimonial process is focused on Duch's role as head of the S-21 security center in Phnom Penh, as part of case 002/02 of the Extraordinary Chambers in the Courts of Cambodia — the full name of the Khmer Rouge tribunal.
“Uncle Nuon ordered [me] to destroy everything before the arrival of Vietnamese forces, but at the time, I begged to keep four people [alive],” Duch, clad in white, his head shaved, told international prosecutors. Duch, 74, who oversaw the deaths of more than 12,000 people at S-21, claims he was following party orders to exterminate “the whole family of the enemy” as part of a "cleansing" that coincided with the regime's approaching collapse.
“At the end, when Uncle Nuon ordered me to destroy all human beings from S-21, I was very shocked and could not do anything," he said, adding that each time he departed for S-21, his wife feared he would not return. "I was sick the day that the Vietnamese arrived. I was very scared.”
By that time, he said, he was acting to keep his own family from suffering the same fate of his victims.
Chum Mey, one of a small number of S-21 survivors, testified that he believed Duch was following orders of party leadership, as junior officers at S-21 in turn followed the orders of Duch on pain of torture or death.
Nuon Chea has repeatedly denied all responsibility for the crimes committed at S-21, also known as Toul Sleng, including final orders to exterminate all remaining prisoners. He has not attended the recent proceedings on health grounds, instead watching courtroom proceedings via closed-circuit television from a separate room in the facility.
In 2012, Duch was the first senior Khmer Rouge official to be sentenced to life in prison for crimes against humanity and violating the Geneva Conventions. So far, he is the only senior regime official to have been sentenced, while other defendants died before their trials ended. Only Chea and the regime’s head of state, Khieu Samphan, remain alive.
The Khmer Rouge oversaw the deaths of an estimated 1.7 million Cambodians between 1975 and 1979.
This report was produced in collaboration with VOA's Khmer service.