Cambodia’s war crimes court yesterday transferred the Khmer Rouge’s torturer-in-chief to a public prison to serve out his life sentence for the slaughter of about 15,000 people, officials said.
Kaing Guek Eav, a former math teacher better known as Duch, was convicted last year of overseeing the extermination of thousands of men, women and children at a notorious torture jail in Phnom Penh.
He was taken from detention at the purpose-built UN-backed court — where he has been held since 2007 — to a local prison in Kandal Province, according to a court statement.
“Duch is being held in a separate cell from other prisoners” for his own safety, General Department of Prisons director-general Kuy Bun Sorn said.
“Duch is a criminal of a genocidal regime ... for those who lost their relatives under the Khmer Rouge regime, how could they not express their anger against him?” he added.
The 70-year-old was found responsible for torture and murder at the notorious Tuol Sleng prison, known as S-21, in Cambodia’s capital during the communist regime’s brutal 1975 to 1979 rule.
“It is the end of his life journey with the Khmer Rouge. He ends up in jail for life,” said Youk Chhang, director of the Documentation Center of Cambodia, which researches Khmer Rouge atrocities.
“Comrade” Duch begged for forgiveness during his trial for crimes committed under his command at the jail, where prisoners were tortured into denouncing themselves and others as foreign spies.
Last week, the Khmer Rouge’s former No. 2 Nuon Chea for the first time expressed remorse for the actions of a regime blamed for the deaths of up to 2 million people in the late 1970s.
The regime former head of state Khieu Samphan also expressed a “sincere apology” in court on May 30 and said that he was not aware at the time of the “great suffering” of the Cambodian people under the regime.
Nuon Chea, the most senior surviving leader of the “Killing Fields” era, is currently on trial alongside Khieu Samphan, 81. Both deny charges of war crimes, genocide and crimes against humanity.
Led by “Brother No. 1” Pol Pot, who died in 1998, the Khmer Rouge was responsible for one of the worst horrors of the 20th century, wiping out up to 2 million people through starvation, overwork and execution.
Regime co-founder Ieng Sary died in March at the age of 87, escaping a court judgement over his role in the regime’s reign of terror and adding to doubts about whether other top leaders would live to face verdicts.